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UCOR102: Imaginative Literature & Critical Writing (Cipri - Paper 3): Search Tips


Beauty and the Beast, by Anne Anderson. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Literary Criticism: Database Searching Tips

1. In searching each of these databases, putting a phrase (or title of a work) in double quotation marks will force the search engine to search for your exact phrase (or title).

2. If you are searching for a work of literature with a unique title, like Dylan Thomas' sonnet sequence "Altarwise by Owl Light," just entering the title in a keyword search will be enough to bring up all articles containing that title. The articles will not necessarily all be on that work of literature, but the title will be contained in each one.

3. In the case of a work of literature with a common title, like William Blake's poem "The Lamb," adding the author's name to the search will be necessary to limit your search to articles on Blake's poem.

4. Sometimes a search using just the title of a work, say Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman, will bring up an overwhelming number of articles. In this case, you should add to your search other key words or phrases describing the particular theme, or themes, of the work you want to explore. If you were interested, for example, in the treatment of the theme of the "American Dream" in Miller's play, you might enter a search like "death of a salesman" AND "american dream" to narrow the number of results to only those on the theme you are interested in.

Searching the MLA International Bibliography

Let's say you wanted to see all criticism  in the MLA International Bibliography on a particular literary work, let's say Keat's poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn." (This technique would also work for a fairy tale, TV show or film title.)

Enter the title of the poem in the first search box. (See image below.) In the MLA International Bibliography, the title of any literary work is always a subject heading, so to find all criticism where that work is the subject, you should pull down the menu to the right of the search box and choose "SU Subjects-All." Then press Search to run your search.

In the case of a poem that is not so well-known, you will probably retrieve a smaller number of materials which you can easily and quickly look through for sources relevant to your needs. However, in the case of poems like the Keats work in the example, you may retrieve more results than you can conveniently look through, so how can you get to just those relevant to your needs?

It is at this point that you can add more search terms to you search. Say you wanted only materials on the poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn" that dealt with the theme of "beauty." In the second search box you would enter the word describing the specific theme you are interested in, but, because your keyword for the theme is not necessarily a subject heading recognized by MLA, you would just leave the menu to the right of the second search box set for the default search "Select a Field (optional)." Then you would click Search to run your search.