Introduction to Strategies for Conducting Literary Research

Barry Mauer and John Venecek

We discuss the following topics on this page:

We also provide the following activities:


Welcome to Strategies for Conducting Literary Research! This book walks you through the process of conducting literary research while helping to refine your library skills. Along the way, we draw from the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Information Literacy Framework. According to the ACRL, “Research is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers lead to additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field.” We discuss this concept in-depth throughout the book. The book also focuses on a research project created by Jada, an English major who conducted a literary study of James Baldwin’s classic short story, “Sonny’s Blues.”

Though we describe research into “Sonny’s Blues” throughout this book, we also discuss ways you can transfer these lessons to your own research about literature.

Start by reading “Sonny’s Blues” in its original context: the Summer 1957 issues of Partisan Review. The story begins on page 327 and ends on page 358.

 Meet Jada

Jada Reyes graduated from UCF with a bachelor’s degree in English/Creative Writing. She is currently in the Elementary Education MA program at UCF. When she’s not teaching she can be found reading, writing, drawing, or catching up on sleep. We will follow her through the research process to see how her project about Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” evolved as she conducted an in-depth literature review while mastering the use of library resources. As you read these chapters, you should extrapolate from Jada’s example and apply it to your own research.

The Complexity of Literary Studies Research

In a research-based course, your instructor might require you to write a research paper of 5-6 or 10-12 pages, but the knowledge you need to perform this task can fill up dozens of pages. Writing about literature is a complicated, often messy process; it needs to meet high standards while incorporating knowledge from other fields such as psychology, history, science, and other arts. It entails knowledge about language, genre, structures, styles, and more. To produce good research about literature, we need to know a lot of things about a lot of things!

Although we discuss the research process in a linear fashion throughout these chapters, you’ll find that, in practice, literary research is a highly recursive process. We’re constantly circling back through the process as we write. Because writing instructors (even those who wrote this book) are locked into presenting the writing process in a linear way, we tend to discuss it in terms of stages such as preliminary research, drafting, revising, and so on. But writing a research paper requires us to rethink and redo our work at any stage. It’s not uncommon for writers to be in the middle of proofreading (one of the final stages) and realize they need to go back and gather more research. Though this book focuses on research about literature, the skills and knowledge in these chapters apply to many other areas and topics, especially in the humanities.

 James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” [Refresher]


  1. Do some quick research about James Baldwin. Who was he and why was he important? Share some of your findings with the class.
  2. Do some quick research about The Partisan Review, the journal in which Baldwin’s story, “Sonny’s Blues,” was first published. Share some of your findings with the class.
  3. Who is the narrator? Why do you think he doesn’t ever give his name?
  4. What are the most important events in the story? How would you describe the plot?
  5. What do you think changes as a result of the last scene of the story? In other words, we might imagine how this final scene changes the narrator, and perhaps his relationship with his brother. Share your ideas with your classmates.

Course Learning Objectives

  • Understand the assignment
  • Identify a research problem
  • Develop audience awareness
  • Enter a scholarly conversation
  • Understand theory’s integral role within humanities research
  • Understand how theory relates to particular research methodologies and methods for gathering evidence
  • Learn to use online library catalogs, database search strategies, library services, citation management, and search alerts
  • Evaluate source credibility
  • Posit your research question
  • Posit a thesis statement
  • Compose a title
  • Define your key terms
  • Write persuasively
  • Write academic prose
  • Steer clear of plagiarism
  • Finish your research project


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Introduction to Strategies for Conducting Literary Research Copyright © 2021 by Barry Mauer and John Venecek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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