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Literary Research Paper  

Last Updated: Nov 6, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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  • Gale Literary Resources - "Artemis"
    One cross-searchable database for the following individual literary databases: Literature Resource Center, Twayne's Author's Online, Literature Criticism Online (Contemporary Literary Criticism, Short Story Criticism).
  • Gale Virtual Reference Center (GVRL)
    Collection of encyclopedias and reference materials (ebooks).
    Archive of core scholarly journals from many disciplines.
  • Biography in Context
    Great database for author background information.

Using Key Words


Why Key Words Matter

Despite all the advances in web and database searching, computers still don't do well with meaning.

When you type a word into a search box, the computer looks only for the word you typed, not the concept you had in mind. To you, that word is an idea. To the computer, that word is a bunch of letters. 

So, the burden is on you, the researcher, to choose the best keywords with which to search. The keywords you choose have a direct and measurable effect on the results you get back. Even a small change in your keywords can lead to a big change in results.

Generating Key Words

The first step in thinking of keywords is to define your topic. You can't research or write about a topic if you can't articulate what it is! Try writing your topic down as a sentence or a question.

Think of keywords to describe each concept involved in your topic. Think of more than one, in case your first choice does not work. Focus on synonyms and related terms. What are other ways to state your topic? Is there a specific word that will describe an abstract concept in your topic?

Sample topic: Does the death penalty unfairly target minorities?

Concept 1: death penalty

Alternative Terms: capital punishment, execution

Concept 2: unfairly targeting minorities

Alternative Terms: discrimination, racism, prejudice

        Alternative Terms: African-American, Hispanic, ethnic groups


    Literary Lenses

    Historical Lens
    Consider the historical context of the work. When was it written? When was it published? When does it take place? And ultimately, what additional meaning is brought to the work when you consider the historical context?
    Biographical Lens
    Consider the person who created the work. What sort of personal story does he or she have that may have influenced the creation of the work? Ultimately, what additional meaning is brought to the work when you consider the creator’s biographical information?
    Marxist Lens
    What role does social status play in this text? Who is benefitted by the outcomes in the text and who is hurt by them? Are the voices of those with less money stifled in the text, or are they heard? Ultimately, what additional meaning is brought to the work when you consider the economic status of the characters involved?
    Feminist Lens
    What role do women play in this work, either as characters in it or in the publication of it? Do female characters play traditional female roles? Are they
    shown to enjoy those roles? Do female characters challenge any of the female roles and are they successful? Ultimately, what additional meaning is brought to the work when you consider the status of the women involved?
    Psychoanalytical Lens
    What are some of the desires, fears, needs, and conflicts of the author's subconscious? Are there issues of selective memory, displacement, denial, irrational fears that are shown in the work? Are there any characters in the work that may represent the author in some way?

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