Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
What is literary criticism?
- English literature courses often require a research paper or an annotated bibliography in which critical essays must be found and cited in MLA style.
- Critical essays analyze and interpret works by prominent authors or discuss other literary topics.
- These essays are found in scholarly journals and in books.
- This guide will help you locate these resources along with overviews of literary works and other background information about your author, literary movements, periods, styles, and themes.
The research process...
Writing a research paper is a process. Start early, do a little each day and allow enough time to have a knowledgeable person review your paper. Here are the major steps for writing a research paper:
- Choose a topic: Consult your instructor's assignment for their topic recommendations and requirements. (See "Choose a topic" tab above.) If you need to locate a specific literary work, ask at the 2nd floor HELP DESK. Your selected literary work is your "primary source." Critical essays about the work are "secondary sources." The writing assignment usually requires a minimum number of secondary sources, which are found in scholarly journals and essay collections in books and reference books. Much of this information is available in databases.
- Read the overview articles from Critical Survey and Masterplots series (covered on the "Choose a topic" tab) and read or re-read your primary source. As you read, consider the elements of plot, setting, character, themes, meanings, style and technique. Make notes about the elements you think are most important for this particular work. Your author may be associated with a certain literary movement, period, or style, which should be included in your paper. If so, be sure to review this important background information.
- Find critical essays about your author and their literary work. Critical essays analyze and interpret literary works with a focus on a thesis statement or main idea. Critical essays are published in literary journals and essay books. Some of this information is online in the library databases (See "Criticism in databases" tab), and some is in print sources (See the two tabs, Criticism in reference books and Criticism in books).
- Read and make notes about the most important ideas of the critics as you see it. All of this work helps you to create a working thesis statement for your paper. Your final thesis statement might vary from the working thesis as you learn more about your topic. Highlight important quotations you may want to address in your paper.
- Keep good notes about your research process such as the books and databases used and the search strategy used in each database. It can be hard to reconstruct this process if you should need to find sources again.
- Print or save MLA citation information for all sources as you search. Databases usually provide the full source information for you. Always check machine-generated citations for correct MLA style, especially title capitalization rules. Print the catalog record tab for books found by using the library catalog.
- Create an outline and write your thesis sentence, a summary of your paper's main idea. The thesis sentence is usually found near the end of your introductory paragraph.
- Write the paper. Type the paper. Make revisions.
- Have someone read your paper. Do you need to make any points clearer? Revise again.
- Document all sources quoted in the paper on the "Works Cited" page, using MLA style. Provide "in text" citations for quotes or paraphrases in the text of the paper. See the tab "Citing sources in MLA" for citation rules, patterns and examples. Each citation should be in the "hanging indent" format.
- Check guidelines for MLA paper formatting and basic style (such as margins, font, line spacing, etc.).
Monday-Tuesday: 7:30 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Wednesday -Friday: 7:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Monday-Thursday: 7:30 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Friday: 7:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Monday-Friday: 7:30 a.m. - 5 p.m