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Research Methods, Theory, & Professionalization

Course Number: EN600

Subject: English


This guide accompanies a workshop about graduate-level research.

OBJECTIVE: apply library research methods for reviewing literature about a topic.


1. Literature Review


Scholarship as Conversation

From preliminary searching and topic development to deep reading and composition, reviewing the literature means engaging in conversation.

From the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), scholarship as conversation involves:

  • citing the work of others
  • contributing in different domains (e.g. local online community, guided discussion, peer-reviewed publication, creative output)
  • identifying barriers to entering the conversation via different venues
  • critically evaluating others' contributions
  • identifying the contribution that different works (articles, books, etc.) make to disciplinary knowledge
  • summarizing changes in perspectives over time


QUESTION: How many sources should you cite in a research paper?


What is Literature Review?

THE PRODUCT: A literature review is a survey of research about a particular topic.

  • It's specific - focuses on a well-defined topic.
  • It's selective - includes a curated selection of research.
  • It's a synthesis - brings together discussions from across the research.
  • It's a starting point - identifies where your research fits into the picture.
  • It shows accountability - demonstrates how you're tuning-in to others' work and voices responsibly.

English dissertations and theses are available through the Library's institutional repository.

If you're doing a dissertation or thesis, it will be made available through this repository (and discoverable through Omni and Google) so that others can build on your contributions to the conversation!


2. Methods for Secondary Research


What is Reviewing the Literature?

THE PROCESS: Reviewing literature is a type of secondary research. There are different ways to review literature. Your methods need to fit your goals for the project at hand.

  • Secondary research = how you identify and work with existing research. 
  • Methods for secondary research = the strategies, processes, techniques, or tools you use to identify and work with existing research, including how you develop, document, and report.


QUESTION: How do you think your searching might change between these 2 scenarios?

  1. You need to find 5 peer-reviewed articles on a topic.
  2. You need to identify the 5 most recent peer-reviewed articles on a topic.


Your Goals for Reviewing the Literature

Image Description

Goals for reviewing the literature become more specific as you go. 1. Define your topic. What is the scope of your project? 2. Develop your understanding of the literature. Can you map out a comprehensive body of literature? 3. Identify where you fit in the conversation. How are you contributing to knowledge in your field? Throughout all 3 stages, you'll be finding relevant studies.


Reading as Process and Method


3. Tips for Finding Research Literature


Tip #1: Where You Search Matters

Different search tools (e.g. Omni - the Library search tool, Google, etc.) are built to do different things.



  1. Copy the following term: fight club
  2. Paste it into the tools below, check off peer-reviewed journals, and hit search.
  3. Answer these questions:
    • How many results did you get?
    • What are the dates of the first 3 results?
    • What journals are the first 3 results from?


Tip #2: Search Tactics Improve Results

Search tactics can improve your results.

What is the tactic? What does the tactic do? Examples

Phrase searching

Use β€œquotation marks” to find more than one term in a row.

"Nancy Drew"


Use an asterisk* at the end of a term to include multiple endings.


Tweens, Tween

Boolean AND Use AND to ensure that all terms appear in every search result. "Tween novel*" AND gender*
Boolean OR Use OR to ensure that at least one term appears in every search result.

teen* OR youth* OR adolescen* OR "young adult



Which 2 search tactics from the table above could improve your results from activity #1? Try them out in the MLA International Bibliography!


Tip #3: Talk Back to Scholarship!

  • There are people behind those scholarly sources ;) 
  • Who are you in a conversation with? How are you responding to someone's ideas in conversation? 
  • A synthesis matrix can help you understand what you're reading and compare conversations between scholars. How do you fit into the matrix?


4. Research Question


Developing a Research Question: For Graduate Students


5. Citing & Managing Sources


MLA Style


Citation Management Software

This is the part of your methods that involves planning how to deal with all the articles, books, interviews, etc., you want to track and save.

In any project, you wouldn't want to collect lots of data without having a plan for how to store and access it.

  • Saves time.
  • Facilitates topic development.
  • Keeps you accountable.

Image Description

Citation management means planning how to collect, organize, access, cite, and share your sources.


Software to Manage Sources

  • Zotero is a free tool.
    • Manage all sources in one place.
    • Create folders and subfolders for projects.
    • Store, read, annotate PDFs.
    • Save screenshots from websites.
    • Access sources from any browser.
    • Create group libraries.
    • Create and update in-text citations and references automatically.


Citing with Zotero


Getting Started with Zotero

  1. Go to Zotero
  2. Register for a free account.
  3. Click the download button.
  4. Download the Zotero app.
  5. Download the Zotero connector.


Page Owner: Meredith Fischer

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Last Updated: October 5, 2023 8:42am