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How to Write a Term Paper

A Variety of Information Sources

"A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension."

— Oliver Wendell Holmes

Your thesis and your working outline are the primary compasses that will help you navigate the variety of sources available.

1. In "Introduction to the Library" (5-6) the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers suggests you become familiar with the library you will be using by:

a. taking a tour or enrolling for a brief introductory lecture,

b. referring to the library's publications describing its resources,

c. introducing yourself and your project to the reference librarian (5)

2. The MLA Handbook also lists guides for the use of libraries (5). Among them are:

a. Jean Key Gates, Guide to the Use of Libraries and Information Sources (7th ed., New York: McGraw, 1994).

b. Thomas Mann, A Guide to Library Research Methods (New York: Oxford UP, 1987).

3. Online Central Catalog

a. Today most libraries have their holdings listed on a computer.

b. The online catalog may offer Internet sites, Web pages and databases that relate to the university's curriculum. It may also include academic journals and online reference books.

c. Below are three search techniques commonly used online:

1) Index Search: Although online catalogs may differ slightly from library to library, the most common listings are by

a) Subject Search: Enter the author's name for books and

article written about the author.

b) Author Search: Enter an author's name for works written by the author, including collections of essays the author may have written about his/her own works.

c) Title Search: Enter a title for the screen to list all the books the library carries with that title.

2) Key Word Search/Full-text Search:

a) A one-word search, e.g., ‘Morrison,' will produce an overwhelming number of sources, as it will call up any entry that includes the name ‘Morrison.'

b) To focus more narrowly on your subject, add one or more key words, e.g., "Toni Morrison, Beloved, criticism."

c) Be sure to use precise key words.

3) Boolean Search:

a) Boolean Search techniques use words such as "and," "or," and "not," which clarify the relationship between key words, thus narrowing the search.

b) This kind of search is described fully in the Literature Resource Center under Search Engine Tips: General Tips.

4. Print Resources (Some may be offered online or on CD-ROM at your library):

a. Gale Literary Criticism Series:

1) Contemporary Literary Criticism (CLC): Authors now living or who died after December 31, 1959.

2) Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism (TCLC): Authors who died between 1900 and 1959.

3) Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism (NCLC): Authors who died between 1800 and 1899.

4) Literature Criticism From 1400 To 1800 (LC) and

Shakespearean Criticism (SC): Authors who died between 1400 and 1799.

5) Classical And Medieval Literature Criticism (CMLC): Authors who died before 1400.

6) Drama Criticism (DC): Dramatists.

7) Poetry Criticism (PC): Poets

8) Short Story Criticism (SSC): Short story writers.

9) Black Literature Criticism (BLC): Black writers of the past two hundred years.

10) Hispanic Literature Criticism (HLC): Hispanic writers of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

11) Native North American Literature (NNAL): Native North American writers and orators of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.

12) World Literature Criticism, 1500 to the Present (WLC): Major authors from the Renaissance to the present.

b. MLA International Bibliography

1) MLA publishes two books yearly that provide bibliographic information concerning literary works. The first book lists works in five areas: literature in English, literature in other languages, linguistics, general literature and related topics, and folklore. The second book is a subject index of the first (Gibaldi 13).

2) Obtain a list of the periodicals in the library's collection. Check titles in the MLA International Bibliography against the library's holdings. This precaution will save you the frustration of searching for periodicals that are not available.

5. Electronic Resources:

a. Literature Resource Center (LRC): Many of the above mentioned Gale Series are available within the Literature Resource Center's searches listed below.

1) Author Search

2) Title Search

3) Genre Search

4) Literary Movement/Time Period Search

5) Literary Themes Search

6) Essays on Publishing Companies

7) Essays on Literary Topics

8) Custom Search

b. Gale Literary Databases: The following databases available on GaleNet. (http://galenet.gale.com) LRC incorporates databases 1-3

1) Contemporary Authors: Provides complete biographical and bibliographical information and references on approximately 100,000 U.S. and international authors.

2) Contemporary Literary Criticism Select: An extensive collection of critical essays on contemporary writers — each entry also contains a biographical/critical introduction, a list of principal works and sources for further study.

3) Dictionary of Literary Biography: Documents the lives and careers of authors from all eras and genres — provides biographies, critical studies, bibliographies and sources for further reading.

4) DISCovering Authors Modules: A student-focused source for biographical, bibliographical and critical information on 1,260 of the world's most-studied novelists, poets and dramatists, including significant coverage of multicultural, popular and genre authors.

5) DISCovering Most-Studied Authors: A student-focused source for biographical, bibliographical and critical information on the 380 authors most frequently studied in North American high schools and colleges, including significant coverage of key novelists, poets, dramatists and short story writers.

c. MLA International Bibliography, available online and on CD-ROM (Gibladi 13):

1) This source includes citations from 1963 on, adding new records ten times per year; approximately 45,000 records annually. (http://medusa.prod.oclc.org)

2) The standard way to search this database is through author, title and subject (Gibaldi 14).

3) Ask a librarian for a list of the periodicals available in your library. You will want to be sure the journal is available before beginning a search through the library"s periodical collection.

d. Free Sources on the Internet

1) Library of Congress: "LOC offers a wide variety of online databases and Internet resources. In addition, the LOC provides an easy-to-use gateway for searching other institutions online catalogs and extensive links to resources on the Internet" Library of Congress Research Tools.

2) There are many Web pages devoted to individual authors. Some are unofficial fan sites and as such may not be appropriate resources for a scholarly paper, but they may contain ideas for topics and provide interesting information about your author. For example, a web page on Toni Morrison includes her views on the possible impeachment proceedings of President Clinton. While these views are not pertinent to the writing of a paper on Beloved, they do offer insights into Morrison's view on contemporary politics. Try entering an author's name on any of the popular search engines, such as Google, Excite, Yahoo, Alta Vista and many others.

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