Skip to Main Content Mansfield Library Research Guides

Literatures in English Research Guide

Information resources in support of the study and research in literatures in English.


This guide is designed to help students and faculty find research materials having to do with English-language literature. This page provides resources to help you develop a research topic and keywords, and provides some information on starting your research. Use the tabs at the top of the page to access more detailed information on finding and citing sources, as well as a summary of some of the services offered by the library. 


Start here! These databases can help you get started on your research. Visit the tab on "Finding Sources" for more subject specific research resources.

Search or browse all databases

Developing a Research Question

1. Select a topic that interests you and do some pre-research. Look at course readings and class notes. Find information using Google, Wikipedia, CQ Researcher, or Credo Reference if you need ideas.  

2. Consider the scope of your topic. If it is too narrow, you might have trouble finding enough information. If it is too broad, you can be overwhelmed with information. 

3. Turn your focused topic into a research question. Know that your research question may change slightly depending on what sorts of resources you find. While you should have a topic or question in mind, allow the sources you find, along with your interests, to help shape and refine your topic further.    

Questions to guide the development of your research question: 

  • Is it focused enough to be covered in my paper or project? 

  • Is there enough literature available on this topic? 

  • What is the question that my research is answering? 

  • Am I genuinely interested in this topic? 

  • Is my topic going to be new and interesting to my audience?

  •  How do you determine if a resource has quality, useful information?


Brainstorming keywords for your topic will help you refine your topic, find the most information about your topic and save you time by helping you search databases in a more efficient and systematic way.

(Why? Different authors will refer to the same concept in different ways. Having a comprehensive list of keywords to search will help you find more information about your topic!)

1.  Pick out the main ideas in your research question. For example, the main ideas in this research question are in bold: “What does Emily Bronte’s Jane Eyre reveal about colonialist thought in 1800s England?”

2. Take each of your main ideas and brainstorm as many synonyms, related words, acronyms, initialisms and spelling variants as you can. For example:

  • "Colonialist":
    • Colonialism
    • Imperialism 
  • “England”:
    • UK
    • United Kingdom
    • Europe 
  • “1800s”:
    • eighteen-hundreds
    • 19th century
    • Victorian era

3. Do this for each of your main ideas. Searching all the variants you can come up with will give you a broader selection of relevant information. Consider making a chart to keep track of which combinations of keywords you have searched for. 

4. Know that there is no such thing as a perfect search. Searching is a process, so having a list of potential keywords will help you begin your research. You’ll find that different combinations of keywords will bring up different results in different databases. You can still learn something from every search you perform, so know that this list of keywords can continue to grow throughout your research process.  

  • You can also use what you learn from searching to redefine your research topic or question. 

5. Several other specific search techniques can help you use your brainstormed keywords. Take a look at: 

Subject Terms

Another search strategy is to use subject terms or phrases. Subject terms are standardized word(s) that describe the main idea of an article or other source. In many databases, but not all, you can use subject terms or phrases to capture the different ways authors refer to the same concept. For example, in the database Academic Search Complete, you will find the following subject terms representing “colonialism”:

  • Imperialism
  • Colonization -- History

You can identify subject terms by looking at a source citation or abstract in a database, or under the Details tab in OneSearch. Subject terms vary by database, they are not always intuitive, and it is common to use both keywords and subject terms in constructing a search.

Like searching with keywords, it is a good idea to keep track of which combinations of subject terms you have searched.