Skip to main content

Literary Research Strategy


Keeping up with scholarship in a field is a challenge. Knowing how to search in popular humanities databases such as Project Muse and JSTOR is a good start, but the amount of results can be overwhelming, while the limits of any one resource make one liable to miss key research. Literature-specific bibliographies can help one take a more comprehensive few of a literary field, while different kinds of field reviews can summarize and distill the latest research trends.

Scholarly Bibliographies

Bibliographies, or books about books, are useful tools for both starting new scholarship and staying current in a specialized discipline. Some bibliographies are about primary source materials -- say, a bibliography of the first American editions of Charles Dickens's novels -- but this strategy will focus on bibliographies of scholarship. In short, these bibliographies list the most recent books and articles published in a field of research, and sometimes even give short summaries of those works.

Many traditional print bibliographies are still produced, but editors are increasingly turning to online databases, which are more responsive to the constantly updating nature of scholarship. MLA and ABELL are the two largest bibliographies in English literature, covering a wide range of literary scholarship, while there are numerous field-specific bibliographies, such as the World Shakespeare Bibliography.

The ability to browse by subject, topic, and/or date gives bibliographies an advantage over other kinds of scholarly database. For example, a reverse chronological sort of the World Shakespeare Bibliography gives patrons a pretty good sense of trends in Shakespeare studies, especially on subjects the patron wouldn't otherwise examine. A JSTOR keyword search, by contrast, would be much less comprehensive, listing only the articles in its own database (and not the books a bibliography would cover), while intermixing articles that merely mention the word "Shakespeare" in passing.

It pays to consult multiple bibliographies. Those two biggest examples, MLA and ABELL, do produce different results for the same searches, while editors for field-specific bibliographies (some of which are still print-only) may catch research no one else does.

Field-specific bibliographies can be found in the different Libguides for those fields. A list of broader-range bibliographies is available here:

Other Scholarly Field Reviews

Many scholarly societies and journals produce overviews of scholarship that function like bibliographies, but are not named as such. One popular title for this kind of production is "the year's work in ______", fill in the blank for whatever field or author. There is fact an entire journal titled The Year's Work in English Studies, but the "year's work" appears in all kinds of publications.Patrons can use the library's advanced search functionality to find these resources. For example, the following query produces links to multiple "year's work" summaries for scholarship about J.R.R. TolkienAdvanced search for the Years Work in Tolkien studies
If there is no "year's work" for an individual author, one might try searching by period or specialty, such as romanticism.

Studies In English Literature, 1500 - 1900 offers similar recent-scholarship overviews by time period, but the key term it uses is "recent studies in _____" (again, fill in the blank).