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Primary and secondary sources for literary analysis
When you are doing research for a literary analysis paper, you are examining one or more primary sources -- the literary works you wish to analyze. And you are searching for secondary sources -- mainly articles and book chapters, possibly interviews (written, audio, or video) with authors or scholars, occasionally websites -- that provide information you will use in your critical analysis.
Thinking about research for critical analysis of literature
This guide will help you find secondary sources for your papers in literature classes. The research you do when analyzing a novel, story, play, poem, memoir, or other literary work requires is similar to the research you've done in English Composition and other courses.
- You'll start by choosing the literature you want to analyze, the critical context you will be considering, and the aspects of the text that you want to analyze as you write about that context.
As with other paper topics, it helps to begin with some broad searches that provide the background for your analysis. In a literary analysis paper, you can find background on:
- the author
- the work (where and when was it written, how was it received, how have people responded to it since then)
- the setting in which it was written (the historical, social and cultural time/place in which the author wrote or the work is set, etc.).
You'll also want to make sure you understand the critical context you are writing about. For example:
- Do you want to examine the role of gender in a particular story or compare that role in two different stories? Background information on gender identity could be helpful.
- Are you examining how the Great Depression may have informed the author whose work you're analyzing? An overview of the economic, political, and social impact of the Depression might help.
Steps for getting started with critical literary analysis research
As you might have guessed, you'll probably need to do a number of searches. Think of research as a process. You might follow these steps, revisiting previous steps as you are forming your ideas until the plan for your paper starts to emerge:
- think about your topic as a set of subtopics
- consider mind mapping so you can see how these topics connect
- remember that the work and the author are topics, but most of your research will be about aspects of the work (like character, theme, symbolism, language, etc.) and the critical context you wish to explore.
- come up with key words for each subtopic
- try searches for different subtopics
- read over the background materials you've found - and if you didn't find any, try different database
- reconsider your keywords as you hone in on the things you want to write about
- keep looking at the text you're analyzing, and note the quotes that illustrate the points you want to make
- outline or otherwise organize your ideas
- do another set of searches to find supporting sources for your ideas
- organize the sources you find by matching them to the outline
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