It's tempting to skip straight to searching for sources, but trust us, it will save you time in the end to understand the area of research you're entering into, your assignment, and what sources you're looking for. It will also help you get a better grade ;)
Set your expectations now - it is normal and expected for the research portion of your assignment to take as long as writing the assignment itself. And if you research well, the assignment will be much easier to write.
Literary research is different than other types of research you’ve likely encountered in school. When you write about literature for your English course, you are conducting literary analysis, also known as literary criticism.
Literary analysis is a special kind of research writing that examines how a particular short story, novel, poem, or play works. While every work of literature has a setting, themes, characters, and plot, literary analysis looks at how a work of literature uses these elements to tell the story, summon a specific mood, or make a point.
Closely reading the work of literature you plan to analyze and reading what others have concluded in their research on the the work will help you find these elements and discuss them in your paper. Similarly, writing a biographical paper, genre or theme analysis, or arguing for the importance of a work requires close reading of the work of literature and other texts about the author, genre, theme, or historical significance.
When you read and analyze what others have written about a work of literature, you are entering the larger scholarly conversation. When you are researching and writing about literature, part of your job is to find and situate your analysis within this wider scholarly conversation. Your instructor doesn’t expect you to have read everything that’s ever been written on the work you’re analyzing (that’s for PhD level students), but demonstrating knowledge of the general historical context of the work and the key interpretations will go a long way to building your credibility as an author, even if your instructor and peers are your only readers.
Scholars seek to advance human knowledge by building on what’s been established in the past, so they study, comment on, improve, critique, or argue against what other scholars have said before. In the case of literary research, this conversation is often about the analysis and interpretation of the work. Scholars entering the conversation are usually familiar with much, if not all, of what has been said about a work in the past. A scholar’s ability to demonstrate knowledge of previous scholarship and to situate their own interpretation within it is how their readers determine the scholar’s credibility.
It may be hard to recognize the conversation between authors in journal articles and books because the format is unfamiliar. Authors writing scholarly works use citations as a form of indirect communication.
Over time, these citations and the commentary on them form the scholarly conversation on a topic or work of literature. Take a look at the image below. These are quotes from journal articles and books on The Yellow Wallpaper, only in a format more familiar. Notice how they refer to what each other has written just like you might in a Facebook comment. The biggest difference between the portrayal below and the scholarly articles they come from is that each of these comments includes deep analysis of the text and the arguments of previous scholars in the actual article. A quick comment doesn't cut it in academic writing.