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ENGL 1020 & Literature Classes

Beyond Literary Criticism…

Researching does not always yield the perfect article that contains exactly what you need to prove your thesis. Sometimes literary criticism has not explored your subject or articles about that topic are not located in the resources available to you at your school or online. This does not mean that you need to change your thesis; instead, you may need to use sources other than literary criticism to support your ideas.


Amy is assigned Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights for a five-page literature essay. She is interested in how 19th century British laws affected female characters in the novel. Amy’s teacher required three sources outside of the book, two of which must be literary criticism. Amy searched the library’s literary criticism databases and asked a librarian for help, but neither yielded results. The librarian suggested that she ask her teacher if she can support her thesis with sources outside literary criticism. Amy emailed her teacher who agreed. Amy found a book about English Common Law in the library’s online catalog and used the index to find information concerning marriage rights and property. She also found a book about the lives of women in 19th century England. Last, Amy found an article that discussed how 19th century marriage laws affected women. These sources provided her with all the information she needed to support her thesis and complete a well-researched paper without literary criticism.

When Amy did not find exactly what she needed, she reached out for librarian assistance, discussed the issue with her teacher, and explored new avenues of research. By breaking down her topic into different subject areas, Amy’s sources allowed her to analyze and interpret information to draw conclusions that supported her thesis.

Here are some general steps that might help if your research does not yield exactly what you need for your assignment.

  1. Discuss your research with a librarian. Librarians are experienced researchers who can help you find the information you need or improve your search strategy.
  2. If your research needs conflict with your assignment requirements, contact your teacher to discuss the problem and make sure they will accept sources that are not literary criticism.
  3. Break down your topic into different ideas that you can research.


Amy’s initial search terms for the literary criticism databases included:

  • “Wuthering Heights” and “English Common Law”
  • “Wuthering Heights” and “Marriage Laws”
  • “Wuthering Heights” and “Property Laws”

Amy’s new search strategy included:

  • Searching the library catalog for “English Common Law” and in a separate search “19th Century English Women”
  • Searching the library history databases for “English Common Law” and “English Marriage Laws 19th Century”

  1. Support your thesis by applying the information you discovered in your sources.