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ENG 4990: Senior Thesis Workshop   Tags: class web page  

Senior Thesis course
Last Updated: Jun 30, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Explore Your Topic


Research is like detective work; you have to run down a few angles and question a few witnesses (or databases) before you're done.

Much of searching for sources depends on choosing the right word to search.

The first link below gives a short, fun look at how many keywords to use in a search.

The second link helps you develop a few different search strategies for your topic. Need help thinking up synonyms? The final link, Lexipedia, can help by suggesting concrete or fuzzier related words.

While there are not synonyms for a term such as "Shakespeare," there are other ways to think more broadly about his time period ("elizabethan" or "jacobean" may lead to broader results). You can also get really specific, by searching for a particular sonnet or play.

Finally, if you have a great article, look at the subjects, keywords, or descriptors (each database uses slightly different terminology, too!) for that article and try using those words.

  • Selecting the Right Number of Keywords
    A nautical look at picking keywords from Kimbel Library, home of humorous videos.
  • How to Generate Keywords for Your Research Topic
    This interactive tool guides you through the process of creating an effective keyword search for your research topic and then allows you to email the results to yourself and/or your instructor. Created by librarians at the University of Texas at Austin.
  • Lexipedia: An Interactive Graphical Dictionary
    You enter a word and it displays the related nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, synonyms and more, on an interactive spider web chart. You can view all the related words on the chart or view only related nouns, verbs, adjectives etc. by clicking on the left bar.

Recommended databases and strategies

Databases for Literary Research

Each database does not contain the same information, or cover all treatments of a topic. Consider the information about what each database covers (both in content and by date, if necessary) before jumping in to search.

This is a good starting point to get background information on theory or traditional literary topics, such as:

  • Shakespeare
  • Salinger 
  • Victorian literature
  • [specific] theory: queer theory, Marxist theory, and so on
  • Christabel

Tips: Search for an author and a keyword or topic, such as Salinger and mysticism. You can also search by specific short story name and keyword, or poem and character.

An ideal place to find info on more traditional, literature based topics but also film and new media. Scholarly articles only.

  • different articles, but any topics in Literary Reference Center is good here too.


Searches for your search terms anywhere in the article, so this generally takes a few tries to unlock the wealth of information. Great for interdisciplinary topics, but not great at recent topics--most of JSTOR's content is at least 3 years old.

  • topics on Shakespeare, Victorian literature, theory, poetry; it's all here.
  • Economics and music literature 
  • television


like Library Google, but with more control of the results topic/subject and format (just articles and films, for example). Good for any topic, better after you limit it to scholarly results.

     Web of Science

Not just science! Some literary topics covered. Worth trying, because once a good article is found on your topic, it is extremely easy to trace articles that cite it--just click the number next to Times Cited to find other articles that may also be relevant to your topic.


Don't forget the English Literature Studies LibGuide:; it recommends research materials in literature--the most common databases for literary research are assembled here.


Choosing the right databases

It all comes down to your topic.

Find databases from the All Databases link on the library homepage, on the left side of the page under Articles & Databases.

On the All Databases page, we've grouped databases by subject; the most common Lit databases are listed under Literature and Linguistics.

If you are looking at a music topic, though, try out the Music databases list. Television shows? Try databases from the Film, Television, and Media studies list.

Each database has a different focus, and not all have the full text of articles. Some have information on a wide range of topics, such as Project Muse, while others have more information on a specific topic, such as World Shakespeare Bibliography Online.

For best results, check the descriptions of the databases before connecting and select a database that covers the same subject area and timeline as your topic.


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