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Literary Criticism: Beginning Your Research

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This Guide Includes

This guide has 4 sections that can be accessed by the links below
(or by the tabs above).

Preparation

1.      Read the work. Read it again. Take notes.

2.      Select a topic to discuss in your paper. If you are having trouble formulating a topic you may wish to ask yourself questions about the work (see “Questions to Answer” below). The answers to your questions may lead to a good topic.

3.      Focus the topic into a thesis. A thesis is a sentence or two that states what you think is meaningful or interesting about the work. It should be something that is debatable, provocative, and of the appropriate scope for your assignment.  At the very least, have an idea or theme to explore.

4.      Support your argument with research.  When you write, the bulk of your paper should include a discussion of the details from the work that support your thesis. You do research to find criticism (secondary sources) that allows you to expand upon your discussion.

For an overview of the process of writing a critical essay, consult “How to Write a Term Paper” online http://solutions.cengage.com/Gale/Free-Resources/Term-Paper/Variety/

Bloom's logo  If you've read and re-read the work but still don't know where to begin, try Bloom's Literary Reference Online.  It has a biographies, overviews, criticism and step-by-step advice on "How to Write a Good Essay."

Questions to Answer

Research often begins with a question. The answers to the following questions could lead you to a topic worth discussing in your paper.

What elements (characters, setting, themes, images, etc.) are particularly interesting? Do these seem to have a deeper significance?

What would you say the work is about? Besides a literal interpretation, can the elements of the work be understood to represent (symbolically, allegorically) something in the real world?

What is the overall tone of the work? How does this influence the depiction of people and events?

What is the source of conflict, problems, or tension? How are these resolved? Are any unresolved?

Do the characters change? How do they change? Why do they change? What changes them?

Does there seem to be a message, moral, or lesson to be learned? How do the elements express or reinforce the message? Are there any contradictory or ambiguous messages?

Are there questions left unanswered in the end? Are there clues that infer possible answers?