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Literary Criticism

Starting Point

What Is Your Research Topic?

Finding literary criticism about your topic can be challenging. The keywording process is essential, so don't skip this step!

Over my years of helping students finding sources for their literary criticism papers, I have found that developing keywords--search terms that you use in databases--is usually the greatest challenge. There may be scholarly journal articles about the work of literature that you are analyzing, but there might not be articles about your specific thesis.

That's completely normal and nothing to worry about.

That doesn't mean that there's nothing useful for you to consult. Remember that you are writing your own literary analysis, not just reporting what other scholars have written about the work of literature in question. Reflecting upon what other scholars have written on your work of literature is important, but own analysis is also valid and valuable.

For example let's say that you are writing about the theme of public morality in Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery." If you can find a scholar's analysis of public morality in that particular short story, that may be incredibly useful. But if you can't, you can also make use of what scholars have written on:

  • Literary criticism of other themes in "The Lottery."
  • Literary criticism of Shirley Jackson's other works.
  • Public morality in literature.

Articles of literary criticism about these topics are valid sources to use when writing your own analysis. You are not required to use only sources directly on your thesis. In fact, it's very unlikely you will find any.

I stress this point because I often see students get stuck in the research process here. Don't worry and don't hesitate to ask for help from me or the other librarians when seeking sources.

With that explanation done, I'd like to suggest some very general keyword structures that reflect the sample topic listed above. They are:

  • Shirley Jackson and lottery and morality
  • Shirley Jackson and lottery
  • Shirley Jackson and criticism
  • Public morality in literature
  • Public morality

Notice that these sample keywords start with very narrow terms and move to more broad terms. Try structuring your keywords in a similar fashion. If you don't find many useful articles with narrow, specific search terms, then try broader, more general search terms.

Introduction to Databases

Database Basics

Now that you have keywords, it's time to search the databases. Have you used the databases before? If you don't have recent experience with our library's databases, then I suggest watching this introductory video.

Database: Academic Search Complete

How to Use Academic Search Complete

The video embedded above shows you how to search Academic Search Complete, which is an excellent source for literary criticism.

Remember to limit your search results to scholarly (peer-reviewed) journals if your professor has told you to use only those types of sources.

Database: JSTOR

How to Use JSTOR

JSTOR is a database of scholarly journals in the arts, the humanities, and the social sciences. It contains many works of literary criticism. The above video shows you how to search it.



We have two excellent ebook databases. These let you read full-text books online. The interfaces can be confusing, so I have included a tutorial video for each one.

EBSCO EBook Collection


How to Search:


Search this Database:


ProQuest Ebook Central


How to Search:


Search this Database:


How to Avoid Plagiarism

Plagiarism is using someone else's work and giving the impression that it is yours. This video describes plagiarism in detail and how you can avoid it.

In addition to watching this video, you should look at this brochure about academic integrity from the college. It describes plagiarism and other forms of cheating as defined by the Lone Star College System.

MLA Documentation

How to Cite Your Sources

You must cite your sources according to the MLA style of documentation.

This is our video that introduces MLA documentation. I urge you to watch the entire video carefully before starting to write your paper or annotated bibliography. It is much easier to cite correctly as you go along, rather than try to fix your documentation after you have written your paper.

This is our sample paper. When you're writing a paper, you can model the formatting of your paper after this one. If you are unsure how to set up the formatting in Microsoft Word so that it fits the requirements for MLA formatting, you could instead download this blank Word document that has the formatting already set up for you.

This is our 2-page handout that summarizes the MLA style. It includes most of the types of sources that students commonly use.

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