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ENGL 247: Detective Fiction: Finding Criticism

Best Practices for Identifying Scholarly Secondary Sources

1. Start with the information provided in tertiary sources!

  • Look up specific titles of books in Primo, or journal titles (not article titles) in Primo Journal Search.
  • Use the vocabulary in the subject encyclopedia entries as search terms in databases.

2. Mine the bibliographies in other secondary sources. You may find one secondary source that is not quite right for your project; however, it may cite another scholarly source that would be just right!

3. When searching Primo or a database, pay attention to the subject headings in your results. You can use the vocabulary or click to do a new search for that heading. You'll be surprised at what you discover this way! 

4. Select the best sources, not just the most convenient sources. This may mean requesting a book from SUMMIT and/or an article from interlibrary loan, both of which take about two to five days to arrive.

Search Primo

Search Collins+Summit+Articles

Using Library of Congress Subject Headings

Collins Library, like most academic libraries in the United States, uses Library of Congress Subject Headings to describe the content of books.  

You only need to be an observant user of Primo -- not an expert in the use of subject headings -- to make them work for you. Availing yourself of frequently used subject headings will help you locate secondary sources easily. Use subject headings to search for resources related to a specific author or work, in addition to literary themes or movements, genres, and/or critical approaches.

Here are several examples of the various ways you can use LCSH to help pinpoint what you need:

Detective and mystery stories, American

Detective and mystery stories, American -- History and criticism

Crime in literature

Erdrich, Louise -- Criticism and interpretation

Featured Books

A sampling of potentially relevant books is listed below. Search Collins Library Primo Search for additional titles. 

Featured Journal: Clues

Clues is a biannual, peer-reviewed journal that features academic articles on all aspects of mystery and detective material in print, television, and film without limit to period or country covered. 

Databases for Finding Scholarly Journal Articles

Selected articles subscribed to by Collins Library are available in Primo, but you'll want to search individual databases for more comprehensive results. Like most other disciplines, English has several subject-specific databases. The MLA International Bibliography is the key database for literature, linguistics, and related areas. . 

E-Journal Collections

These e-journal collections provide access to many journals for literary studies, but they are more limited in coverage compared to subject databases. In most cases, it's better to search subject databases to identify articles, and then search the journal title in Primo to link to the materials in these e-journal collections.

Reading Criticism

Texts that interpret literary works are usually persuasive texts. Literary critics may conduct a close reading of a work, critique a literary work from the stance of a particular literary theory, or debate the soundness of other critics' interpretations. 

During the preview phase, you'll want to concentrate on these key elements:

  • Abstract (if available)
  • Introduction: First paragraph (sometimes the second paragraph, too). What is the writer’s central claim? What research question is the author asking?
  • Evidence:  What kind of evidence does the writer use to support their claim? Are there quotations from the text(s)? From other critics/scholars? From theorists?
  • Scholarly conversation:  What are the other scholarly works (secondary sources) the author uses? Does the author acknowledge counter-arguments? How does this interpretation connect to your own close reading of the text?
  • Conclusion (typically the last paragraph):  How does the author tie the evidence together to answer the research question? What is the significance of this research?

Once you've selected the article, you can actively read for content, argument, analysis and evaluation. 

Tip: Read the article more than once!  It may help to print out a copy so that you can make notes.