Last updated: Tuesday,21-Aug-2012 02:42 AM

Conducting Your Academic Literary Research

For the writing you do in this course (and in general this applies to writing expected of you in other college courses), you will want to focus your energies on finding essays and articles published in academic publications.  Other publications that reach a more educated audience such as Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report, Harpers, The New Yorker, and so forth would be acceptable sources to use in your papers, but you will find very limited literary criticism.

Electronic Research

When you decide to use the Net to locate sources to use in your writing, apply the same consideration to selecting electronic sources as you would to choosing print sources.  One of the mistakes students often make is carelessly choosing electronic sources because they are easy to find on the World Wide Web.  However, when searching for electronic sources, realize that in addition to the Web, you should exhaust some other avenues first.  Many of these resources are accessible via the Internet and a Web browser, and they are more reliable than just going to your favorite search engine and doing a query on a topic.  Consider, for example, subscription databases.

Subscription Databases

A subscription database is a good place to start before conducting a broad Internet search for Web pages.  One that Fullerton College subscribes to is EBSCOHost.  This resource will allow you to look up articles that have been published in various periodicals such as newspapers, magazines, and academic journals.  (Nota Bena: This database is accessible from a remote location like your home computer as long as you have the userID and password I distributed in class.  From the Fullerton College library or campus computer labs domain, you do not need to know the userID and password.)  This database is searchable by author, title, subject, or keywords.  Pick relevant keywords to help focus your search.  Your sources will always give you critical information about the source: author, title, periodical name, volume, issue, and page number.  You will need this bibliographic information to compile your Works Cited page, so you should find some system to record it.  The search results basically will be of two sorts:  

1) bibliographic information (the database will indicate whether the source is part of Fullerton College's holdings; 

2) bibliographic information and a full-text article.  

If you find a relevant source that has a full-text article, you can print it out, e-mail it to yourself, or download it to your floppy disk.  An electronic version is the smart form to use since it is possible that you will be citing, perhaps even quoting, from the source.  The electronic format is flexible, and you can always print it out later if you want to read from the hard copy rather than the screen.

By going to the Fullerton College library home page, you will find additional databases to use.  Of particular value for this Introduction to Literature course is GaleNet.  You can access it by clicking on the link, then clicking the AUTHENTICATE button.  Here you can search three resources all at once: Contemporary Authors, Contemporary Literary Criticism Select (CLC Select) and The Dictionary of Literary Biography (DLB).  I highly recommend these databases before just jumping onto the Web.  You will find plenty of full-text articles here.

I would highly recommend that you look for journal articles in the reference section of CSUF's library since you may not find enough of what you need in FC's subscription databases, like GaleNet.  At CSUF's library, you can access these databases for free; unfortunately you cannot do so from home (like you can with FC's databases) without authenticating yourself with a username and password.  Once at a computer workstation in CSUF's library, you should investigate the following literature index databases.  Although others exist, these are the primary ones that will yield excellent search results for you:

  • MLA International Bibliography

  • JSTOR

  • ProjectMUSE

You will see a little bit of overlap among these indices.  The MLA Index primarily will give you the bibliographic source information that you need to look up the journal's LOC (Library of Congress) call number in the OPAC before you can locate that journal in the book stacks. Be sure to note whether your target journal is located on the second floor (north) or in the basement's compact holdings.  Searching in JSTOR and ProjectMUSE will return digital copies of articles in PDF format and you can either print these out or download them to your computer directly for use.  These are the same as if you had gone to the book stacks, found the journal article and photocopied it yourself.

After exhausting your searches in the online index databases, you might consider looking at a website called FindArticles.com.  You will sources similar to those in JSTOR and ProjectMUSE that have been licensed for the public to use.

Whether you are majoring in English or transferring to a four-year university to study in a different discipline, I cannot recommend enough the value of knowing how to conduct academic research by using these digital tools like the ones that CSUF and other local universities have available.  The more exposure to and practice you have with using them, the better equipped you will be to succeed when you transfer from Fullerton College.

Online Public Access Catalogs (OPACs)

Don't forget that you also can remotely access Fullerton College's online public access catalog (OPAC).  You can mostly find book and periodical titles relevant to your topic; but as the library expands its holdings, links out to the Web can be found for some sources.  An advantage to this search tool is that you can search for the sources you want at home, then go to campus and pick them off the shelf, then check them out.  If you happen to live closer to Orange Coast College, Golden West College, or Cypress College, you can search those college libraries and check out sources from that location instead.  Fullerton College is just one place to access an OPAC.  You may even want to search through the library holdings at California State University, Fullerton, since the campus is nearby, and it is a larger institution with more resources.

Using the World Wide Web

Once you are finished investigating these databases and online catalogs, the next step is to consider locating sources on the Web.  You should be familiar with different search engines and how they differ from one another.  A good source is Terry Gray's "How to Search the Web: A Guide to Search Tools."  Another web site worth exploring is Search Engine Watch.

Evaluating Internet Resources for Research

Here is some required reading for evaluating the value of Internet resources.