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English Subject Guide: English 11: Literary Research



Click Here for the Passwords List.  You'll need to log in as a Catlin Gabel student or employee.  Having trouble? Contact your division librarian.

Realist Reading Circle: Humanities Research

Realist Reading Circle: Humanities Research

(From Drama in the Hood Theater Company's production of My Antonía, Seattle:

Goals for the research skills class

  • know the difference between search engines & research databases
  • establish a good search strategy
  • learn how to search JSTOR effectively (an academic database)
  • be able to unpack & interpret your search results
  • learn to credential your sources
  • become a more sophisticated researcher


Good research is the result of good thinking. 

Brainstorm a list of keywords and phrases relevant to your topic, and include synonyms.  This is an essential step you should never skip.  Think about synonyms for your keywords and phrases.

Use quotation marks for exact phrases:

  • ex:   "charles chesnutt"
  • ex:   "civil war"
  • ex:   "my antonia"

Wild cards find all versions of a word when added after the word's root:

  • ex:  regiment* finds regiment, regiments, regimental, regimented, etc.
  • ex:  narrat* finds narrate, narrates, narration, narrator, and narrative, etc.  

Start with a general search, and narrow it down as you look through your results.

Databases vs. Web Searching

The Deep Web / Invisible Web

The vast majority of internet information cannot be found through Google or other search engines!  Some experts estimate that 96% of the internet is hidden from search engines. 

What are Databases?

Databases & Google:  What's the Difference?

Academic Databases
(JSTOR, Academic Search Premier, etc.)

Internet Search Engines
(Google, Bing, etc.)

  • contain published journal/magazine articles
  • articles are peer-reviewed & subject to editing
  • academic materials aimed at an academic audience
  • used to search billions of web pages
  • anyone with internet access can be an author
  • quality varies dramatically
  • materials may/may not be edited or reliable

Useful Databases for Literary Research

We subscribe to JSTOR, which is the best choice for literary research in the humanities.  You'll need the login and password, so click on the box at the upper left of this page. 


Anatomy of a Search Screen

Be sure you are logged into JSTOR.  Here are some keys to narrowing down a search.  Start with general terms, and narrow down systematically. 

Read abstracts when they are available. 

They're brief summaries of the contents of a long, complex article.  Abstracts are hugely helpful. Note:  JSTOR does not provide abstracts for 90% of its articles.  Here is an example of a rare abstract from JSTOR (albeit on a different topic).

For this project, websites are arguably the toughest sources to find.  Why?  Searching for high quality sources among millions of options is not easy.  Unlike JSTOR sources, the majority of websites are not vetted/checked for quality. 

Use Advanced Search in Google

Now apply all of your best search techniques, including quotation marks for phrases, and the asterisk at the end of the root word. 
Be sure to try limiting by domain.  Domains with .gov, .edu, or .org may be less commercial, but you still have to evaluate results carefully.  Credential all of your sources!

Be persistent!  These searches take time and experimentation.

Google Scholar

This is a specialized web search engine.  Be aware that not all content is available full text.  Let's get started.

Notice that we're searching using Advanced Google Scholar.  It lets you fine tune your search.  Be very specific when you search, as there is a lot of material to sort through.

Types of material you might find in a Google Scholar search:  

  • scanned copies of journal articles (not so helpful)
  • academic websites / professors' course materials with links to useful materials
  • Doctoral dissertations, Master's Theses, and undergraduate essays
  • conference papers (ie, papers/essays presented by an expert at an academic conference)


Books on Reserve


All the library's approximately 60 relevant books for your research are on a reserve shelf on the east side of the US Library.

Please practice ethical behavior using reserve materials:

  • you MUST use the slips to check out any item you remove from the Manuscript Room
  • YOU are responsible for the on-time return of any item you borrow
  • books may be borrowed for ONE BLOCK at a time, or overnight/over the weekend when signed out at the end of the school day
  • all borrowed items must be returned BY 8:30AM SHARP the next school day
  • be kind to one another by observing all of these rules, and avoiding hoarding behaviors that hurt the entire class

What's on reserve?

  • Books of criticism by a single author
  • Books of critical essays written by multiple authors, and gathered by an editor into a single volume
  • A selection of literary biographies

Save Yourself a Huge Headache

Be sure to copy the title page of the book when you copy an article/section of the book.  You'll be able to locate it and cite it later on.  Another resource for citing is the US Library Catalog.  Look up the book you're using, and obtain information about authors, editors, date and place of publication, edition, etc.  Have questions?  Sue and Derek are here to help you.

EBooks from Multnomah County Library
I've made you a list of ebooks you can use at any time.  You'll need a MultCoLib card and a password to use these.  Not sure how to get a card?  CLICK HERE!
To access the list of ebooks, and begin to use them, click below.

How to use ebooks in our collection

You have access to several useful ebooks through our Infobase Books subscription, and a few other options.  Why use ebooks?  They are ALWAYS available, and you can use them from home whenever you want.  NOTE: These require a login and password, which are found on the brightly colored plastic ebook placards, and on the Logins and Passwords page (above, left).  We've put ebooks right on the shelf with the rest of the books on reserve.  Scan the QR code for fastest access!


Credentialing Sources

Your writing is more authoritative when your sources are high in quality.  What determines the quality of a source?  The author's credentials are important.

What's a credential?

  • degrees or demonstrated expertise/knowledge in a particular field (ex:  a PhD in American Literature)
  • work experience (ex:  5 years of teaching undergraduate-level college courses at Villanova University)

How Do I "Credential" an Author?
In JSTOR, this process is quite easy.  There are two places where an author's teaching affiliation (if any) will most likely be found: 

  • alongside the author's name at the beginning of the article
  • at the end of the text of the article, before the notes or Works Cited section

Here are examples of both of those situations:

Look at the list of results that includes your article.  Notice that the author's name is a clickable link. 

I clicked on "Cyrena N. Pondrom," and here's what I found.

Now head on over to Google Scholar, and search for "Cyrena N. Pondrom."  Here's what I found.  Notice the large number of results, including books and articles. 

Credentialing Authors in Books
Be sure to start by checking for a brief bio of the author inside the book jacket, or at the end of the book.  With collections of essays, there is often a section called Contributors that provides good information.  When in doubt, also check JSTOR and GoogleScholar. 

Credentialing Website Authors
Look for the link called About, or More Information, and read it carefully.  Can you externally verify this information by opening another Google tab and searching?

Questions?  Please ask Tony or Sue for research help. 


Your US Librarian

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Sue Phillips
Upper School Library
503.297.1894 x4550 (circulation desk); (503)297-1894 x4100 (voicemail)