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Modern Languages

This guide provides resources for students and faculty conducting research in Modern Languages, including, but not limited to: Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish.

Library Research Guide

Getting Started with Literary Criticism

Starting a critical analysis of an author, work, or genre? Not sure how to start or feeling overwhelmed by the articles you do find? Save time by getting an overview of what literary criticism already exists on your topic.

Yes, you can use Wikipedia as a starting point, but when you need direction on academic sources, information on this page will help you:

  • focus or refine your research topic,
  • identify books or articles already written about your topic,
  • start a list of keywords to use when searching for books and articles,
  • understand the key themes or theories talked about in the articles and books you discover in your research.

Visit the pages on this guide for Academic Articles, Books, and Cultural Context to continue your research.

Author Biographies, Plot Summaries, & Character Overviews

Need a quick overview of a work's themes or the author's background? Trying to understand the ideas discussed in the literary criticism you have found? Start your research with major reference sources for literary studies like the Dictionary of Literary Biography and Masterplots. These works, and others like them, are found in the databases Literary Reference Center and Literature Resource Center.

Refer to these databases to learn:

  • major themes or genres associated with an author
  • an author's biography, from birthplace to involvement in wars or social movements
  • important works already written about an author or work
  • plot summaries
  • character overviews

These sources cannot take the place of reading a work or literary criticism published in books and academic journal articles. They can provide terms and keywords for further research. Take note of subject terms, adjectives, genres, and themes discussed.

Searching Tips

Both databases offer options to focus your search or filter your search results.

Advanced Search

Use the dropdown menu on the Advanced Search screen for options to tell the database where to search for your keywords. This helps eliminate articles that only mention an author, work, or character in passing.

Screenshot of Literary Reference Center's advanced search dropdown menu.


Filter Search Results

Both databases offer options to filter your search results by source type or content type. Explore the search results page to limit the types of sources shown.

Screenshot of filters on Literature Resource Center'S Search Results page

Search for Books About an Author or Book

To find books about a work or an author, instead of a copy of the original work try:

  • using the in subject option on Search It's Advanced Search screen
  • adding key words like criticism to your search terms

Search It "in subject" Option

1. Click on the Advanced Search button from the Search It box on K-State Libraries' home page.

Advanced Search button for Search It

2. Click the K-State Libraries Only tab

3. Using the drop down options, change Any to in subject

4. Enter the work title or author's name in the search box

Search It advanced search using in subject option

Literary Criticism Search Terms Option

Using the search box on the Libraries' home page or the Advanced Search page, build a search by combining:

  • title of the work or author's name
  • terms like: criticism, interpretation and/or history

Search It Advanced search using keywords criticism or interpretations

Guides, Companions, & Encyclopedias

Guides, companions, and encyclopedias offer an in-depth entry point to studying literature. These works are often written for students or a researcher exploring new content and provide a window into the existing scholarship, including theory and criticism.

Didn't find what you need? Try:

1. Searching in Search It or WorldCat for your author/work/movement/genre and the words: encyclopedia, companion, dictionary or guide. For example:

2. Broaden your search to a term that would include your author/work/movement.

For instance, information about Colette could appear in works about French authors, the Belle Époque period, and twentieth century women authors.

Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism

Publishing History

Trying to visualize the publication history of an author (including works about the author)? WorldCat Identities is a good starting point. When the information is available, publication in anthologies and other collections is provided too. 

Use WorldCat Identities to:

  • identify when an author was published and popular
  • locate alternative names and spellings for an author
  • find books about an author — those that are most widely held are worth looking at, if only to understand why so many libraries have them