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Valencia Reader - ENC1102: What sources do I need?

What sources do I need?

Knowing what sources you need starts with the assignment itself. You’ll want to read the directions carefully to make sure you know what you need to complete the assignment successfully. Your professor likely refers to primary, secondary, scholarly, internet, web, credible, reliable, and/or peer-reviewed sources, but what do all these terms mean? This page will help you demystify these source types.

Another confusing thing about college assignments is that there isn’t a single definition between instructors for terms such as scholarly, credible, or reliable, so when you’re reading your assignment instructions look for answers to the following questions:

How many sources do you need?
What types of sources do you need?
Do they need to be from a library database?
Do they need to be peer-reviewed?
What does scholarly, credible, or reliable mean to your instructor?
Are overviews or reference sources acceptable or can you only use criticism?
 

Click on the question link or scroll down to learn about source types:

What are literary source types?

Primary sources are the works of literature being analyzed by you or the authors writing secondary sources. Examples include:                                                             

Poems
Short stories
Plays
Novels
Films
Letters by or about the author from the time period of the author’s life  
News articles about the author or work from the time period of the author’s life
Secondary sources are those that analyze or comment on the primary sources or that you use to analyze the primary sources. In other words, the authors of the sources talk about the topic or primary sources in the secondary ones. These are where you will find the scholarly conversation. Examples include: 

Biographies
Work Overviews
Topic Overviews
Literary Criticism
Peer-reviewed criticism

How do I know which source type it is?

Need information on the life of the author? Biographies are the place to go.

Biographies range anywhere from a few sentences to an entire book on the life of an author, and you can find them in print as well as online. The biography of Charlotte Perkins Gilman below is from the Encyclopedia of World Biography Online. Look for the following characteristics:

  • Short biographies often don't list an author
  • Often include quotes from primary sources
  • A list of further readings or bibliography is more common than Works Cited list.

Screen shot of characteristics visually depicted on a biography.

Need to know the themes in a work, what literary devices are used, the style, how it fits in the historical time period, or the work's significance? Work overviews are the place to go.

Work overviews are short to medium length articles or book chapters that give a summary of the primary literary work and provide a broad overview of its characters, style, themes, historical time period, etc. Sometimes a work overview contains brief critical analysis, but it doesn't go into detail the way literary criticism does. These sources are perfect for understanding the importance of a work in its time period, its value for today, or for ideas for further in-depth analysis.

  • Easy to understand but not much depth or detail
  • Author of secondary overview will be different from author of the primary work
  • Covers multiple aspects of the work broadly in a handful of paragraphs
  • Often includes a summary of the primary work
  • More likely to have a further reading list or bibliography than a Works Cited list.
  • Often part of a larger reference series, such as Masterplots or Short Stories for Students.

Source abbreviated for visual purposes.

Screenshot of a work overview highlighting the characteristics visually.

Need broader coverage of a theme, genre, critical lens, or topic or need to know the significance of a one of them? Topic or theme overviews are the place to go.

Topic and theme overviews are similar to work overviews except they have broader coverage of a topic or theme rather than focusing on the primary work you're analyzing in particular. They are helpful in understanding a critical lens, the broader picture of a topic/theme in literature, or the larger historical context of a work. When using these overviews as an author, you will need to make the connections explicit for your reader(s) between the broader information and the specific work or author you're analyzing. Notice that many of the visual cues of the topic/theme overview are the same as the work overview.

  • Gives broad coverage of a topic or theme
  • Covers multiple aspects of the topic/theme in a handful of paragraphs
  • May briefly mention the primary source you're analyzing but often does not
  • Easy to understand
  • Author of the overview may or may not be listed.
  • Can be listed as a topic overview document type in the database record or document
  • Often part of a larger reference series such as American History Through Literature or Literary Themes for Students
  • More likely to have a further reading list or bibliography than a Works Cited list.

Source abbreviated for visual purposes.

Screen shot of topic overview visually depicting charateristics

 

Need a deep analysis of a work of literature, a critical lens to view with, or an interpretation of the work? Literary criticism is the place to go.

The word criticism usually has a negative connotation, but when it comes to academic criticism, it simply means an analysis. What separates literary criticism from overviews is the depth of analysis and the use of a critical lens. A critical lens is a framework for interpreting or analyzing a story. There are many ways to view a literary work. Analyzing the psychological motives of the characters or the author's unconscious (Psychoanalytic Criticism) requires a very different critical lens than analyzing the patriarchal institutions, inherent male-centric language, or inequality with in a work of literature (Feminist Criticism). Psychoanalysis requires a background knowledge in psychology and usually applies the lens of a specific psychological theory, such as those of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, or Jacques Lacan, while Feminist Criticism requires background knowledge and application of feminist theory.

  • In depth analysis of a work of literature
  • Author's analysis/interpretation is often situated among the interpretations and arguments of other scholars (aka the scholarly conversation)
  • Look for citations and footnotes
  • Written by experts who have spent significant time studying literature and/or the primary work you're analyzing.
  • Uses a critical lens or methodology to interpret the work
  • Found in a book, journal, or critical collection.
  • Longer than most overviews
  • Includes a Works Cited list.
  • Screenshot of criticism with characteristics visually depicted

Do your sources need to be peer-reviewed? Peer-reviewed criticism is the place to go.

Peer-reviewed literary criticism is a subset of literary criticism. These look the same as general literary criticism; the difference is that these articles have gone through a process of review by fellow experts in literature. You will find peer-reviewed criticism in peer-reviewed journals.* Here's how the process goes:

1. The completed criticism is sent to a literary journal in hopes of publication.
2. The editor of that journal does an initial review of the work and decides if it is of high enough quality for publication.
3. If it meets quality standards, then the editor sends the work to other scholars of literature to review for the strength of the author's arguments and analysis and the application of the chosen methodology.
4. Sometimes the reviewers will request changes to improve the work, after which the article is sent back for further review.
5. If the article is approved by the reviewers, only then is it published.

  • Published in a peer-reviewed journal
  • In depth analysis of a work of literature
  • Author's analysis/interpretation is often situated among the interpretations and arguments of other scholars (aka the scholarly conversation)
  • Look for citations and footnotes
  • Written by experts who have spent significant time studying literature and/or the primary work you're analyzing.
  • Uses a critical lens or methodology to interpret the work
  • Found in a book, journal, or critical collection.
  • Longer than most overviews
  • Includes a Works Cited list.

If you're ever unsure of whether a source is peer-reviewed, you can look up the website of the journal the article is published in using Google (another strategic way to use Google). The description of the journal or its editorial process will usually tell you whether it is peer-reviewed. If the criticism is a book chapter, it is most likely not peer-reviewed unless the book is a collection of previously published peer-reviewed journal articles.

Screen shot of a journal homepage peer-review policy.

You'll encounter many visual formats during your research, but don't let that trip you up. The same information can be displayed many ways, which is why it's important to look for the characteristics covered in this module within the content.

For example, look at the two different formats below. One is a scanned version of the print copy and the other is an HTML version, but they contain the same journal article.

Screen shot of print scanned peer-reviewed article

Screen shot of HTML version of peer-reviewed article

 
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