LOOP » Research by Discipline » English

Introduction | Background Information | Scholarly Information & Peer Review / Primary & Secondary Resources | Searching for Books | Searching for Scholarly Articles in Library Databases | Finding Articles | Citing Your Sources | Off-Campus Access | RefWorks | Asking for Help |

Things to Remember!

Contact Prof. Bill Gargan,
your English Librarian, for help!




The material below is provided as a brief introduction to library research in the fields of language and literature using the resources of the Brooklyn College Library.  Those seeking more comprehensive sources should consult the following:

Baker, Nancy L. A research guide for undergraduate students:  English and American literature, 5th ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2000.  Location: Brooklyn - Stacks PR56 .B34 2000

Harner, James L. Literary research guide:  an annotated listing of reference sources in English literary studies, 5th ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2002.  Location: Brooklyn - Reference -  Z2011 .H34 2008

Marcuse, Michael J. A reference guide for English studies. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1990.  Location: Brooklyn - Reference -  PR56 .M37 1990

Patterson, Margaret C. Literary research guide, 2nd ed.  New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1983.  Location: Brooklyn - Reference -  Z6511 .P37 1983

Altick, Richard Daniel. The art of literary research, 4th ed.  New York: Norton, c1993.  Location: Brooklyn - Stacks  PR56 .A68 1993

Background Information

Although literary research has become more interdisciplinary in recent years, the field remains organized, for the most part, by nationality, time period, and genre, a structure reflected in the printed version of the MLA International Bibliography as well as in most published reference works. For students unfamiliar with the literary author or subject that they have been assigned to research, tertiary sources -- printed or online encyclopedias or histories -- are often a good places to begin. Students working in English literature might begin with the Oxford Companion to English Literature

or for slightly more in-depth articles The Cambridge History of English Literature (Brooklyn - Reference - PR85 .S34 1970).

Information on American literature can be found in wide variety of reference sources, including The Oxford Companion to American Literature

and the two volume Literary History of the United States (Brooklyn - Reference - PS88 .L522): volume one covers history, the second volume bibliography.  Updated bibliographical information can be found in the Facts on File Bibliography on American Literature.

For general introductions to major authors use The Scribner Writers Series


and the Dictionary of Literary Biography, which can be found along the wall in the reference room just before the alcove that leads to the copy machines.  The Twayne’s Author’s series is a good book length introduction to major authors.


Most of the Twayne volumes are also available as circulating books, arranged under individual call numbers on the third floor.

Finally, the Literature Resource Center




provides full text, one stop shopping for a wide range of tertiary, secondary, and primary sources in the field of literature.



Scholarly Information & Peer Review / Primary & Secondary Resources

Literary scholarship or research is produced by scholars or critics who are experts in the fields.  Much scholarly material that is published in academic journals goes through peer-review,  a process in which a manuscript is vetted by independent reviewers who evaluate the proposed article for authority and accuracy. You can read more about the difference between scholarly journals, popular or opinion magazines and trade publications at http://www.umuc.edu/library/guides/identify.shtml.

The online version of the MLA International Bibliography provides a directory of the core collection of periodicals that it indexes, noting which titles are peer reviewed.

Research materials can be divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.  In the field of literature, primary resources are first and foremost the poems, stories, or plays that are being studied. Photographs, maps, artifacts, audio and video recordings, oral histories, posters, personal correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, and typescripts are also considered to be primary sources when they have an immediate connection to an author. In some instances, published materials can also be viewed as primary materials for the period in which they were written -- such as newspapers articles that are contemporary with the events they describe.

Secondary resources in literary study tend to be books, essays, or journal articles that analyze, interpret, or comment on a particular author or subject.

Tertiary resources, which include dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, indexes and abstracts, reviews of research, and various reference tools, compile, summarize, or analyze information based on primary or secondary sources.  Useful annual compilations provide reviews of research in the fields of language & literature:

American Literary Scholarship
Brooklyn - Reference - PS3 .A47

The Year’s Work in English Studies
Brooklyn – Stacks - PE58 .E6



Searching for Books

Use the library catalog to search for books at Brooklyn College or in all CUNY libraries.  If Brooklyn’s copy of a book is checked out, you can have it delivered from another CUNY school by clicking the Request a Copy button.

Title begins with...            
Use when you know the exact title of a book or the first few words in the title.
e.g. typewriter is holy: the complete, uncensored history of the beat generation Tip: Drop initial articles (a, an, the, la, les etc.) when performing a title search.
e.g. brother-souls Tip: Type just the first words of a title, e.g. this search returns:  brother-souls: john clellon holmes, jack kerouac, and the beat generation

Author, last name first...                            
Use when you do not have a book title, or you want to find other books written by an author.
e.g.  kerouac jack Tip:Always type the author’s last name first.               
e.g.  bukowski, charles Tip: Use of the comma is optional              

Subject begins with...        
Search the Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) for your topic (Copy available at reference desk).  Remember that people can also be subjects, something you need to keep in mind when researching literary authors.  Tip: To find books by an author, click on the author tab in the search window; for books about an author, click on the subject tab.  
Beat Generation  Tip: If you are unsure of the Library of Congress subject heading, try keyword subject or consult the librarian on duty at the reference desk.
e.g. Beat Generation—California—San Francisco
e.g. Burroughs, William S. 1914-1997.                                          

When you perform a subject search on a literary figure, you will note that the Library of Congress often breaks the main subject heading down into subheadings. The more famous the author, the more sub-headings he or she is likely to have.  Shakespeare is the all-time champ.  If there are whole books about one of the author’s works, these will have separate sub-headings.  Do not neglect the books listed under more general headings, however, including the sub-heading “criticism and interpretation” as most general books will contain chapters or pages on that author’s major works. 

Basic Search Types in the Catalog (Click on Go to Catalog for advanced search options.)

All Fields or Keyword
Searches for your terms in all fields in the catalog record. Keyword allows very focused searching by combining search terms with the Boolean operators “and,” “or,” and “not.”

Tip:  Connect two or more keywords with “and." The resulting set will contain only those catalog entries that contain both terms.
e.g.  Kerouac and “Beat Generation” and videorecording.

Tip: Use quotation marks to search for an exact phrase.
e.g.  “18th century literature” and “Jane Austen”

Tip: connect two or more terms with “or.” The resulting search will contain all catalog entries that contain either of the terms entered.
e.g. (postcolonial or postcolonial)

For a more detailed explanation of how to search the catalog, click on the “help” button on the upper right hand of the screen.

Searching for Scholarly Articles in Library Databases

The best way to find published, scholarly articles on your topic is to use the library’s databases, which allow you to search by topic and see in which journal issue an article appears.  Some databases (such as Academic Search Premier and JSTOR) cover journals in many fields, while others (such as America: History & Life, Biological Abstracts, or ERIC) are more specific.

Choosing a Database
An alphabetical list of databases can be found on the Library’s home page by clicking on the Articles & Databases tab.

To access library databases from home, you will be prompted to log in using your BC email ID and your password.

The following is a list of the library databases most frequently used to find articles for English/Literary Studies.


Search Tips for Library Databases

Narrowing Your Topic

Often students are assigned fairly broad subjects for research. The first thing a student needs to do is to narrow the topic to one that can be handled productively in the number of pages the assignment requires. Having a clear, manageable topic for your research is key to success.  If a student chooses to write a ten page paper on Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, for instance, he or she will have to narrow the focus sufficiently to say something meaningful within a limited space.  An appropriate topic might be “The Significance of Dreams in Troilus and Criseyde” or “Pandarus, Servant of Cupid?”  

Choosing Keywords

Once you have chosen a topic, you need to identify key words that you can use in your search.  This is generally more difficult in the humanities than in the sciences, where language and terminology tends to be more precise. 

In the first topic listed above, “The Significance of Dreams in Troilus and Criseyde,” the search terms to be used are fairly obvious “Troilus and Criseyde” and “dreams.”  It might also be good to add the term “Chaucer,” so as to eliminate articles on other versions of the story made popular by Henryson and Shakespeare.

In the second topic, the key word is the character’s name, Pandarus.  The word servant is unimportant in and of itself.  Cupid might be useful as a subject term but what are really needed are terms for what lies behind the meaning of the god’s name.  What does the phrase “servant of Cupid” imply?   “Love,” “sex,” “adultery,” “courtly love” are all terms one might want to consider.

Tip:  Before you begin to combine your terms, do a search on the term “Pandarus” alone or on “Chaucer and Pandarus” to see how many relevant articles you find.  If you find a sufficient number of articles, you may end your search there.

Consider Descriptors (controlled vocabulary)

Many databases also use specific terms called descriptors that are assigned to articles on that topic. Once you know the descriptors for your topic it can make it easier to pull all articles on the same topic together at the same time. The subject guide search button near the top of the MLA International Bibliography page functions in this way. Tip:  Authors names and titles also function as descriptors in the MLA International Bibliography.  e.g. Click the “person-about” box and type Ginsberg-Allen; click the “name of work” box and type “sun also rises.”

Combine Terms

Once you identify the terms (keywords or descriptors) applicable to your topic, put them together with Boolean operators such as AND (for more precision in your search), OR (to enlarge the pool of results), or NOT (to exclude possible elements that might jeopardize quality for quantity in your results.)

For example, to find out about the significance of dreams in Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde,” enter the search string  “Troilus and Criseyde” and Chaucer and dreams into the MLA International Bibliography.  It is recommended to put quotes around search terms that are phrases (contain more than one word).  Any number of terms can be connected by the terms “and”  or “or"). 

Tip: Remember to put all of your “or” searches into parenthesis.
e.g. (feminist OR feminine OR gender OR women) AND scarlet-letter

Consider Your Results

Once you do a search in a database, look at the results – are they what you expected? 

Remember – research is complex and can sometimes be frustrating!  Try to approach it as an opportunity to learn – and don’t expect to find everything you want right away!

Here are a couple of online tutorials that further explore some techniques in database searching:

Finding Articles

Full Text in an Article Database
Some databases provide the full text of some or all articles.  If available, you can most likely download, print or email the article right then and there. Look for the words PDF, PDF Full Text, HTML Full Text, or Linked Full Text somewhere around the citation to the article.

Locating Full Text via FindIt@CUNY Button
If you identify an article where full text is not available, try the Findit@CUNY Button.  FindIt@CUNY opens a new window, and indicates if your article is available full text in another database that the Brooklyn College Library subscribes to. If it is, simply click the “Full Text Online” link to access the full text.  If it is not available full text online, one of the options is to search the catalog to see whether the Library has it in print and/or to request the article via Interlibrary Loan.

Identify Full Text Online Journals via the E-Journals Finder
The E-Journals tab will enable you to determine whether the Library subscribes to a particular journal online e.g. Early American Studies.
First: Click on the E-Journals tab on the Library’s home page.
Second:  Do a title search for your journal title in the Search for e-journal by title search box.  If we do have an online subscription, then you can link directly to it by clicking on the database provided.  Note that years of coverage differ among databases, so check your citation.

Identify Print Journals in the Library Catalog
Go to the Library Catalog Journal Title Search module search for "Journal Titles” in the CUNY system.
Second:  Do a Title begins with search for your journal title in the catalog.  If we do have a subscription, click on Brooklyn to make sure we have the issue you need. 

Find Full Text Online with a Web Search
Search Engines:
You can try searching for your article in your favorite search engine:  Google, Bing, etc. — you never know!  However, in many cases the full text is only available for a fee.  Be sure to check the library’s holdings before you pay for any articles!
Search Tip: Put the article title in “quotes” so it is searched as a phrase.  Try adding the author’s last name.
Results Tip: You may be able to locate an article, but it may not be free.  Consider the other options, including Interlibrary Loan, before paying.

Google Scholar: Google’s tool for searching scholarly literature usually returns an assortment of citations, links to abstracts, and links to full text. While many full text articles it links to are NOT free, Brooklyn College is part of the “Library Links” program that will link you to full text we subscribe to — so be sure to turn on library links in Scholar Preferences and link to Google Scholar from the library’s website so you are authenticated.

Can’t Find Your Article?  Here are a few things you can do:

Ask a Librarian for help.  In person at the Reference Desk (1st floor); Via telephone at (718) 951-5628; Via Chat Reference

Check to see if another CUNY or NYC library has the journal you’re looking for, and then go get it.  The library catalog will show you journal holdings at other CUNY schools.  You can then visit the CUNY school where you article is located.  Remember to bring your Brooklyn College Identification Card if you visit another CUNY school’s library.  You can also check the catalogs at the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library.

Request the article via Interlibrary Loan.  Stop by the Reference Desk on the 1st floor for more information, or fill out the form online. Just remember that an ILL request for a journal article can take some time (although it’s often available within a few days)—so this won’t work if you need it immediately.  And be sure to check the Brooklyn College Library’s holdings first!

Access resources through Academic Libraries of Brooklyn (ALB). The Academic Libraries of Brooklyn (ALB) is a consortium of eight academic libraries in Brooklyn.  This cooperative program allows students, faculty and staff of any ALB member library to use the resources of the other member libraries, including reading and borrowing privileges.  You need a current Brooklyn College ID and an ALB card to gain access to ALB member libraries.  To obtain a card, consult a librarian at the Reference Desk.

Access resources through METRO. The Brooklyn College Library belongs to METRO, a New York regional cooperative with over 250 member libraries.  For a membership directory, click here.  Thanks to METRO, the Brooklyn College Library can provide you with occasional on-site access to these collections when your research requires it.  A METRO card referral is issued by a reference librarian for the use, at a private university such as NYU or Columbia, of a specific book or journal that is not attainable at CUNY, through ILL, or in the public library.  Under another METRO agreement, under very special circumstances, a subject collection may be consulted for a short period.  A METRO referral does not allow the borrowing of the material.  For policies of individual libraries, please consult the library's web site.

Citing Your Sources

In scholarly writing, we are continually engaged with other people’s ideas: we read them in texts, hear them in lecture, discuss them in class, and incorporate them into our own writing. As a result, it is very important that we give credit where it is due. Plagiarism is using others’ ideas and words without clearly acknowledging the source of that information.

To avoid plagiarism, you must give credit whenever you use:

adapted from: Indiana University Writing Tutorial Services http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/plagiarism.shtml

Citation Help: For more on how to write, and cite your sources, try the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) or the excellent Research and Documentation Online.

Off-Campus Access

To use subscription resources from the Brooklyn College Library while off-campus you must authenticate (i.e. log in) using your BC email username and password.  When you are off campus and select any licensed electronic resource you will be presented with an authentication page requesting your login.

Students may obtain their BC email ID and password from within BC WebCentral.

Students can get their Brooklyn College student email username and password online at the BC WebCentral Portal <http://portal.brooklyn.edu/>. Clicking on the "My Info" tab, you will find your student email ID. 

  • Student email IDs assigned Summer 2014 or later are your CUNYFirst user ID followed by @bcacad.local, like this: joe.doe01@bcacad.local.
  • Student email IDs assigned before Summer 2014 are made up of 2 letters and 4 numbers
    (e.g. BC1234).

Your authentication password is your BC email password, which depends on when you enrolled at BC:

  • If you enrolled in the college starting Summer 2014 or later, your password is the month and day of your birthday plus the last 5 digits of your CUNYFirst EmpID. The format is MMDDEEEEE.
  • If you enrolled in the college starting Summer 2008 or later, your email password is the month and day of your birthday plus the last 5 digits of your Student ID number (SSN). The format is MMDDSSSSS.
  • If you enrolled in the college in Spring 2008 or earlier, your email password is your full 9-digit Student ID (SSN).

For more detailed instructions, please see the WebCentral Help page on accessing your email information.

Faculty and staff members use their BC email information to authenticate themselves.

For faculty and staff who do not have a Brooklyn College email account, an application may be downloaded at: http://infotech.brooklyn.cuny.edu/pdf/emailapp.pdf. You may download the Adobe Acrobat Reader for free at http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html.

In the space provided, enter your BC email ID and password to access electronic databases from off-campus.

Problems with authentication should be reported to the ITS Help Desk. If you cannot get past the login screen for off-campus access to electronic resources, even if you know you're entering the correct BC email ID and password, you've probably been locked out of the EZ-Proxy server.  This is common if you attempt to log in unsuccessfully too many times.  In this situation, please contact the ITS Help Desk by calling (718) 677-6180 or emailing helpdesk@brooklyn.cuny.edu.  (Please note that the Help Desk's regular hours of operation are 9 AM to 5 PM on Mondays through Fridays.)


 RefWorks is an online tool that allows you to:

The first time you use RefWorks, you will need to set up an account (see below).

 Learn to Use RefWorks

Create a RefWorks Account

  1. Go to http://library.brooklyn.cuny.edu and click “Databases”
  2. Select “RefWorks” from the alphabetical list
  3. Click “Sign up for an Individual Account”
  4. Complete the New User Information Form:
    1. Enter your name
    2. Create a login name for yourself
    3. Create and confirm a password
    4. Enter your Brooklyn College email address
    5. Indicate if you are an undergraduate student, graduate student, faculty member, etc.
    6. Indicate your major
    7. Type the code you see on your screen
    8. Click “Register”

Note: You must use your Brooklyn College email address.  If you don’t know your BC email address, you can find it in BC WebCentral Portal (http://portal.brooklyn.edu/) by clicking on the “My Info” tab.  Also: If you copy and paste your BC email address from BC WebCentral Portal to the New User Information Form, make sure there are no extra spaces at the end of your address.  If there are extra spaces, delete them.

Asking for Help

Ask-a-Librarian online chat 24/7: Click to instantly chat with a reference librarian anytime, any day.

Reference Desk: You can always come to speak in person to any librarian at the Reference Desk during library open hours.  Or call the desk at 718-951-5628

Research Consultation: For in-depth research assistance, contact Prof. Bill Gargan, the English librarian, to set up an appointment.