English Literature Research Paper Topics

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This guide, centered on English literature research paper topics , serves as a comprehensive resource for students seeking to delve deep into the diverse epochs, authors, and themes that have shaped English literary tradition. Navigating the intricate tapestry of English literature offers scholars a multitude of avenues for exploration. From the mystique of medieval tales to the introspective narratives of modernism, this guide not only provides a plethora of English literature research paper topics but also offers insights on choosing the ideal topic, structuring the research paper, and harnessing the unmatched writing services of iResearchNet. Dive in to unravel the rich heritage of English literature and discover the myriad opportunities it presents for academic exploration.

100 English Literature Research Paper Topics

Diving into English literature is like embarking on a journey through time and culture. From ancient ballads to modernist narratives, it offers a vast panorama of themes, styles, and societal reflections. Below is a comprehensive list of English literature research paper topics spanning across different eras and genres:

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Medieval Literature

  • The significance of chivalry in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight .
  • The Christian and Pagan elements in Beowulf .
  • Courtly love in The Knight’s Tale from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales .
  • Dream visions in Pearl and Piers Plowman .
  • The role of fate and providence in The Consolation of Philosophy .
  • The art of storytelling in The Decameron vs. The Canterbury Tales .
  • The Seven Deadly Sins in Everyman .
  • The evolution of the English language: Old English vs. Middle English.
  • Religious allegory in The Second Shepherd’s Play .
  • Women and femininity in the Lais of Marie de France .

Renaissance and Elizabethan Age

  • Shakespeare’s portrayal of power in Macbeth .
  • Love and beauty in Sonnet 18 .
  • The idea of the “New World” in The Tempest .
  • The virtues in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene .
  • Magic and science in Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.
  • The pastoral settings of As You Like It .
  • The politics of gender in Twelfth Night .
  • Revenge and madness in Hamlet .
  • John Donne’s metaphysical poetry and its innovation.
  • The darker side of the Renaissance: The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster.

The Restoration and the 18th Century

  • The satirical world of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels .
  • Class struggles in Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders .
  • Alexander Pope’s critique of society in The Rape of the Lock .
  • Aphra Behn and the emergence of the woman writer.
  • The wit and wisdom of Samuel Johnson’s essays.
  • The rise of the novel: Richardson vs. Fielding.
  • Sentimentality and society in Sterne’s Tristram Shandy .
  • Politics and plays: John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera .
  • Women, education, and literature: Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas.
  • The mock-heroic in English literature.

Romantic Period

  • Nature and transcendence in Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey .
  • The Byronic hero in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage .
  • Shelley’s Ozymandias and the ephemeral nature of power.
  • The Gothic romance of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights .
  • George Gordon Lord Byron and the Romantic antihero.
  • The visionary world of William Blake’s poems.
  • The exotic and the familiar in Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
  • Keats’s exploration of beauty and mortality.
  • The industrial revolution’s reflection in literature.
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the dangers of ambition.

Victorian Era

  • Charles Dickens and his critique of Victorian society.
  • The challenges of morality in Thomas Hardy’s novels.
  • The bildungsroman in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre .
  • The plight of women in George Eliot’s Middlemarch .
  • Oscar Wilde’s wit and irony in The Importance of Being Earnest .
  • The debate on science and religion in In Memoriam A.H.H by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
  • The mystery and suspense of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.
  • The “Woman Question” in Victorian literature.
  • The realism of Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire.
  • Gothic elements in Dracula by Bram Stoker.
  • The fragmented narrative of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse .
  • T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and the disillusionment of the post-war era.
  • The struggles of the working class in D.H. Lawrence’s novels.
  • The impact of World War I on English poetry.
  • James Joyce’s revolutionary narrative techniques in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man .
  • E.M. Forster’s exploration of social and racial themes.
  • The critique of colonialism in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness .
  • W.B. Yeats and the Irish literary revival.
  • The emergence of the stream-of-consciousness technique.
  • The Jazz Age and decadence in the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Gothic Tradition

  • Origins of Gothic fiction: Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto .
  • The supernatural and macabre in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
  • Ann Radcliffe’s influence on the Gothic novel.
  • The role of the Byronic hero in The Vampyre by John Polidori.
  • Duality of human nature in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde .
  • The haunting atmospheres in Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.
  • Gender and sexuality in Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu.
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s influence on English Gothic literature.
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker: Themes of sexuality and fear of the unknown.
  • The Gothic novel as a reflection of societal fears and anxieties.

The Angry Young Men Era

  • Social criticism in John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger .
  • Exploring masculinity in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe.
  • The disillusionment of post-war Britain in The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner .
  • The class struggle in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim .
  • Existential themes in John Wain’s Hurry on Down .
  • Feminine perspectives in the era: Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey .
  • The critique of academia in The History Man by Malcolm Bradbury.
  • The Angry Young Men and their influence on modern theater.
  • The transformation of British literature in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • The lasting legacy of the Angry Young Men movement in contemporary literature.

Postmodern British Literature

  • Metafiction in Julian Barnes’s Flaubert’s Parrot .
  • The playfulness of language in Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses .
  • Intertextuality in Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit .
  • The fragmented narrative in Graham Swift’s Waterland .
  • Reality and fiction in Ian McEwan’s Atonement .
  • Gender and postcolonial themes in Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve .
  • The exploration of identity in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth .
  • The deconstruction of traditional narrative in Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
  • Postmodern gothic in The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.
  • Magical realism in The Porcelain Doll by Julian Barnes.

Contemporary English Literature

  • The multicultural London in Brick Lane by Monica Ali.
  • Exploring family dynamics in On Beauty by Zadie Smith.
  • The concept of time in Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam .
  • The role of history in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall .
  • The exploration of love and loss in Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending .
  • Postcolonial Britain in Andrea Levy’s Small Island .
  • The challenges of modern life in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity .
  • The evolution of the English detective novel: Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories .
  • The legacy of the British Empire in The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai.
  • The digital age and its influence on literature: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon.

English literature boasts a rich and varied tapestry of themes, periods, and genres. This comprehensive list is a testament to the dynamism and depth of the field, offering a myriad of research avenues for students. As they venture into each topic, they can appreciate the nuances and complexities that have shaped the literary tradition, making it an invaluable component of global culture and heritage.

English Literature and the Range of Topics It Offers

English literature, encompassing the vast historical, cultural, and artistic legacy of writings in the English language, boasts a rich tapestry of narratives, characters, and stylistic innovations. From the earliest Old English epic poems to the reflective and multifaceted postmodern novels, English literature offers an expansive array of topics for analysis, discussion, and research. The depth and breadth of this literary tradition are mirrored by the diverse range of English literature research paper topics it can inspire.

The Medieval Foundation

Diving into the early origins of English literature, we encounter works like Beowulf , an Old English epic poem of heroism, fate, and the struggle against malevolent forces. Medieval English literature, characterized by religious texts, chivalric romances, and philosophical treatises, sets the stage for the evolution of narrative styles and thematic explorations. The rich allegorical narratives, like Piers Plowman or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight , present intricate societal and spiritual commentaries that still resonate with readers today. These works invite inquiries into the socio-religious dynamics of medieval England, the evolution of the English language, and the literary techniques employed.

Renaissance and Enlightenment: A Burst of Creativity

The Renaissance and Elizabethan Age saw the emergence of revered playwrights like William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, whose dramas, whether tragedies, comedies, or histories, plumbed the depths of human emotion, politics, and existence. The genius of Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Othello , juxtaposed against Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus , provides a fertile ground for investigating themes of ambition, betrayal, love, and existential angst. Moreover, with poets like Edmund Spenser and his epic The Faerie Queene , English literature expanded its horizons, both thematically and stylistically.

The subsequent Restoration and the 18th century ushered in a period of social and literary change. With authors like Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, satire became a powerful tool to critique society and politics. Furthermore, the emergence of the novel, as exemplified by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Samuel Richardson’s Pamela , offered researchers a chance to explore the evolving societal values, gender norms, and narrative techniques.

Romanticism, Victorian Era to Modernism: A Spectrum of Emotion and Thought

The Romantic period, marked by poets like William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and John Keats, celebrated nature, emotion, and individualism. In contrast, the Victorian era, with novelists like Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and the Brontë sisters, addressed societal change, morality, and industrialization. Both periods are a goldmine for English literature research paper topics around the individual vs. society, the role of nature, and the exploration of the self.

Modernism in English literature, with heavyweights like Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and T.S. Eliot, revolutionized narrative structure and thematic depth. Works from this era, such as To the Lighthouse or The Waste Land , demand analysis on fragmented narrative, stream of consciousness, and the introspective exploration of the human psyche.

Contemporary Reflections

Contemporary English literature, shaped by postcolonial, feminist, and postmodern influences, gives voice to a plethora of perspectives. Authors like Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, and Julian Barnes tackle issues of identity, multiculturalism, history, and reality versus fiction. Such works present a plethora of avenues for research, from analyzing the postcolonial identity in Rushdie’s narratives to the intricate tapestries of familial and societal dynamics in Smith’s novels.

Concluding Thoughts

In essence, English literature is an evolving entity, reflecting and shaping societal, cultural, and individual values and challenges over the centuries. For students and researchers, the wealth of English literature research paper topics it offers ranges from historical and linguistic analyses to deep dives into thematic cores and stylistic innovations. Whether one wishes to explore the chivalric codes of medieval romances, the biting satires of the 18th century, the emotional landscapes of Romanticism, or the fragmented realities of postmodern narratives, English literature provides an inexhaustible reservoir of research opportunities.

How to Choose an English Literature Topic

Choosing a research paper topic, especially within the expansive field of English literature, can be a challenging endeavor. The centuries-spanning literature offers a treasure trove of stories, themes, characters, and socio-political contexts that beckon exhaustive exploration. As such, students often find themselves at a crossroads, wondering where to begin and how to narrow down their choices to find that one compelling topic. Here’s a detailed guide to streamline this process:

  • Align with Your Interests: Dive into periods, genres, or authors that genuinely intrigue you. If Victorian novels captivate your imagination or if Shakespearean dramas resonate with you, use that as your starting point. Genuine interest ensures sustained motivation throughout your research journey.
  • Evaluate Academic Relevance: While personal interest is vital, ensure your chosen topic aligns with academic goals and curriculum requirements. Some English literature research paper topics, while intriguing, might not offer substantial academic value for a particular course or level of study.
  • Seek Familiar Ground (But Not Too Familiar): Leverage your previous readings and coursework. Familiarity offers a foundation, but challenge yourself to explore uncharted territories within that domain. If you enjoyed Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice , maybe delve into its feminist interpretations or comparative studies with other contemporaneous works.
  • Embrace Complexity: Opt for English literature research paper topics that lend themselves to multifaceted exploration. Simple topics might not provide enough depth for comprehensive research papers. Instead of a general overview of Romantic poetry, explore the portrayal of nature in Wordsworth’s works versus Shelley’s.
  • Historical and Cultural Context: Literature isn’t created in a vacuum. Understand the historical and societal backdrop of a literary work. This context can offer a fresh perspective and can be an excellent lens for your research.
  • Contemporary Relevance: How does a particular work or literary period converse with today’s world? Exploring the modern implications or relevance of classic works can be both enlightening and academically rewarding.
  • Diverse Interpretations: Embrace English literature research paper topics open to various interpretations. Works like George Orwell’s 1984 or Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot can be analyzed from political, psychological, existential, or linguistic viewpoints.
  • Consult with Peers and Professors: Engage in discussions with classmates and seek advice from professors. Their feedback can provide new perspectives or refine your existing topic ideas.
  • Read Critiques and Literary Journals: Academic journals, critiques, and literary analyses offer insights into popular research areas and can help you identify gaps or lesser-explored aspects of a work or period.
  • Flexibility is Key: As you delve deeper into your research, be open to tweaking or even changing your topic. New findings or challenges might necessitate slight shifts in your research focus.

Choosing the right research topic in English literature requires a blend of personal passion, academic relevance, and the potential for in-depth exploration. By aligning your interests with academic goals, and being open to exploration and adaptation, you pave the way for a fulfilling and academically enriching research experience. Remember, the journey of researching and understanding literature can be as enlightening as the end result. Embrace the process, and let the vast ocean of English literature inspire and challenge you.

How to Write an English Literature Research Paper

Penning an English literature research paper is a task that demands meticulous planning, a deep understanding of the subject, and the ability to weave thoughts coherently. English literature, with its vast and rich tapestry, offers endless avenues for exploration, making it both an exciting and daunting endeavor. Below are step-by-step guidelines to craft a compelling research paper in this domain:

  • Understanding the Assignment: Before diving into the research phase, ensure you fully understand the assignment’s requirements. Is there a specific format? Are certain sources mandatory? What’s the word count? This foundational clarity sets the stage for efficient research and writing.
  • Preliminary Research: Start with a broad exploration of your topic. Read general articles, introductory chapters, or review papers. This will give you a general overview and can help narrow down your focus.
  • Thesis Statement Formulation: Your thesis is the backbone of your research paper. It should be clear, precise, and arguable. For instance, instead of writing “Shakespeare’s plays are influential,” you might specify, “ Macbeth illustrates the dire consequences of unchecked ambition.”
  • Diving Deeper – Detailed Research: With your thesis in hand, dive deeper into primary (original texts) and secondary sources (critiques, essays). Libraries, academic databases, and literary journals are treasure troves of valuable information.
  • Organize Your Findings: Use digital tools, index cards, or notebooks to categorize and annotate your findings. Grouping similar ideas together will make the writing process smoother.
  • Drafting an Outline: An organized structure is essential for clarity. Create an outline with clear headings and subheadings, ensuring a logical flow of ideas. This will serve as a roadmap as you write.
  • Introduction Crafting: Your introduction should be engaging, offering a glimpse of your thesis and the significance of your study. Remember, first impressions count!
  • Literary Analysis: Delve into the text’s intricacies – symbols, themes, character development, stylistic devices, and historical context.
  • Critiques and Counter-arguments: Discuss various interpretations of the text, and don’t shy away from addressing dissenting views. This lends credibility and depth to your paper.
  • Comparative Analysis (if applicable): Compare the chosen work with others, drawing parallels or highlighting contrasts.
  • Maintaining Coherence and Transition: Each paragraph should have a clear main idea and transition smoothly to the next, maintaining the paper’s flow and ensuring the reader’s engagement.
  • Conclusion Crafting: Reiterate your thesis and summarize your main findings. Discuss the broader implications of your study, potentially suggesting areas for further exploration.
  • Citing Your Sources: Always attribute ideas and quotations to their original authors. Depending on the assigned format (MLA, APA, etc.), ensure that in-text citations and the bibliography are correctly formatted.
  • Revision and Proofreading: Once your draft is complete, take a break before revisiting it. Read it aloud to catch awkward phrasings. Check for grammatical errors, consistency in argumentation, and clarity in presenting ideas. Consider seeking peer reviews or utilizing editing tools.
  • Seek Feedback: Before final submission, consider sharing your paper with a mentor, professor, or knowledgeable peer. Their insights can be invaluable in refining your research paper.

Writing an English literature research paper is as much an art as it is a science. While meticulous research and structured writing are crucial, allowing your passion for literature to shine through will elevate your paper. Remember, literature is about exploring the human experience, and as you dissect these masterpieces, you’re not just analyzing texts but delving into profound insights about life, society, and humanity. Embrace the journey, and let every step, from research to writing, be a process of discovery.

iResearchNet Writing Services for Custom English Literature Research Paper

For any student of English literature, the voyage through various eras, authors, and their imaginative universes is both exhilarating and overwhelming. Each period, from the mystical narratives of the Middle Ages to the raw modernism of the 20th century, has its distinctive character, themes, and voices. However, writing a research paper on such vast and diverseEnglish literature research paper topics can be challenging. This is where iResearchNet steps in, bridging the gap between intricate literary exploration and top-notch academic writing.

  • Expert Degree-Holding Writers: Our team consists of scholars who not only hold advanced degrees in English literature but are also passionate about their specialization. Whether you’re delving into Chaucer’s tales or Virginia Woolf’s modernist prose, rest assured, there’s an expert at iResearchNet familiar with the nuances of the topic.
  • Custom Written Works: Each paper is crafted from scratch, ensuring originality and authenticity. We understand that English literature is an interpretative art, and we strive to provide fresh insights tailored to your specific requirements.
  • In-Depth Research: With vast resources at our disposal, from academic journals to rare manuscripts, our writers conduct rigorous research, ensuring a comprehensive exploration of the topic.
  • Custom Formatting: Whether you require APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, or Harvard style, our writers are well-versed in various academic formatting standards. With keen attention to detail, we ensure your paper aligns with institutional requirements.
  • Top Quality: We uphold the highest quality standards, ensuring clarity, coherence, and cogent arguments. Every paper undergoes a thorough review process, guaranteeing academic excellence.
  • Customized Solutions: English literature is diverse, and so are the requirements of every assignment. iResearchNet’s approach is inherently flexible, catering to unique needs, be it comparative analysis, thematic exploration, or literary criticism.
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At iResearchNet, our primary goal is to support and elevate your academic journey in English literature. With a blend of profound literary knowledge and impeccable writing skills, we bring to life the narratives, themes, and voices of the past and present. So, whether you’re venturing into the allegorical world of The Faerie Queene or analyzing the post-colonial undertones in Wide Sargasso Sea , with iResearchNet, you’re not just getting a paper; you’re obtaining a piece of scholarly art.

Delve into the Literary Chronicles with iResearchNet

English literature, a tapestry woven with tales of heroism, love, tragedy, and introspection, spans over centuries, capturing the essence of an evolving nation and its people. From the ethereal romance of the Arthurian legends to the stark realism of the 20th century, the literary works of England are a testament to the country’s rich cultural and historical legacy.

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Literature Topics and Research

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What kinds of topics are good ones?

The best topics are ones that originate out of your own reading of a work of literature, but here are some common approaches to consider:

  • A discussion of a work's characters: are they realistic, symbolic, historically-based?
  • A comparison/contrast of the choices different authors or characters make in a work
  • A reading of a work based on an outside philosophical perspective (Ex. how would a Freudian read Hamlet ?)
  • A study of the sources or historical events that occasioned a particular work (Ex. comparing G.B. Shaw's Pygmalion with the original Greek myth of Pygmalion)
  • An analysis of a specific image occurring in several works (Ex. the use of moon imagery in certain plays, poems, novels)
  • A "deconstruction" of a particular work (Ex. unfolding an underlying racist worldview in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness )
  • A reading from a political perspective (Ex. how would a Marxist read William Blake's "London"?)
  • A study of the social, political, or economic context in which a work was written — how does the context influence the work?

How do I start research?

Once you have decided on an interesting topic and work (or works), the best place to start is probably the Internet. Here you can usually find basic biographical data on authors, brief summaries of works, possibly some rudimentary analyses, and even bibliographies of sources related to your topic.

The Internet, however, rarely offers serious direct scholarship; you will have to use sources found in the library, sources like journal articles and scholarly books, to get information that you can use to build your own scholarship-your literary paper. Consult the library's on-line catalog and the MLA Periodical Index. Avoid citing dictionary or encyclopedic sources in your final paper.

How do I use the information I find?

The secondary sources you find are only to be used as an aid. Your thoughts should make up most of the essay. As you develop your thesis, you will bring in the ideas of the scholars to back up what you have already said.

For example, say you are arguing that Huck Finn is a Christ figure ; that's your basic thesis. You give evidence from the novel that allows this reading, and then, at the right place, you might say the following, a paraphrase:

According to Susan Thomas, Huck sacrifices himself because he wants to set Jim free (129).

If the scholar states an important idea in a memorable way, use a direct quote.

"Huck's altruism and feelings of compassion for Jim force him to surrender to the danger" (Thomas 129).

Either way, you will then link that idea to your thesis.

Dalhousie Libraries - Research Guides Home

  • Dalhousie University Libraries

English Literature

  • Research step-by-step
  • Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and more
  • Find articles
  • Primary Sources: Digitized books, manuscripts, journals, & newspapers
  • Recommended Websites
  • Book reviews
  • MLA citation
  • Citation management

On this page...

Step 1: choose a topic, step 2: consult reference sources, step 3: grab some books, step 4: search for articles, step 5: collect, read, evaluate, and write what you have learned, step 6: cite your sources.

  • Borrowing books from other universities (Document Delivery)
  • Exercises and help material
  • Arthurian Literature series
  • ENGL 3301: Graphic Novels This link opens in a new window
  • CRWR 4010: Advanced Creative Writing - Poetry I

This page walks you through the basic steps of research. Keep in mind that the research process is actually quite messy, and you might find yourself jumping back and forth between the steps listed here. These steps are meant to orient you to the research process, but you do not necessarily have to follow this exact order:

  • Choose a topic
  • Consult reference sources
  • Grab some books
  • Search for articles
  • Collect, read, evaluate, and write what you have learned
  • Cite your sources

When choosing a topic, keep the following points in mind:

  • Choose a topic that ACTUALLY interests you.
  • Your topic is not set in stone. Once you start doing some initial research on your topic, you will probably decide to tweak it a bit.
  • Pick a topic that is manageable. If your topic is too broad, it will be hard to condense it all into one university paper. But if your topic is too narrow, you may have a hard time finding enough scholarly research for your paper.
  • Handout: Choosing a topic Check out this helpful handout on choosing a research topic!

Or, watch this incredibly useful video from North Carolina State University Library on choosing a topic:

When you first get started on a research project, you might not have very much prior knowledge of your topic. In that case, it's a great idea to start with some background information. The most heavily-used reference source in the world is Wikipedia, but as a student you also have access to many other excellent scholarly reference sources.

Jump to the "Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and more" page of this guide.

Ebook collection

Time to get down to it! Books will help you get an even better handle on your topic. Books provide more in-depth information than reference sources, but are often much better for background information than journal articles. Keep the following in mind:

  • Start by registering your Dal card as your library card. Fill out your registration form and bring it to the service desk at the Killam Library, or register online using our online form (this will take about 24 hours to process).
  • Use the Novanet library catalogue to search for books on your topic.
  • You can access ebooks immediately online; if you find a print book that interests you, write down the call number and visit the stacks!
  • Check out this quick video: How to read a call number in 90 seconds
  • Remember that in most cases you won't need to read the whole book!
  • You may borrow print books for 3 weeks, and renew them twice. To renew books online, start here . Click "Guest," at the top right of the screen, and then "My library card." Log in with your barcode and password. You should see an overview of the books you have checked out, and an option to renew. You can also check out this quick video tutorial on renewing books .  

Jump to the "Find books" page of this guide.

Scholarly journals are specialized journals that publish new research on specialized topics. They are written FOR academics, researchers, and students to keep them aware of new developments in the field. They are written, for the most part, BY academics and researchers who are actively involved with the field of study. You can find scholarly articles in databases that the library subscribes to. Make sure to search in subject-specific databases (such as a history database), as well as multidisciplinary databases that include a wider scope of material.

Jump to the "Find journal articles" page of this guide.

  • Handout: Identifying and reading scholarly works New to reading scholarly articles? Check out this helpful handout.

Or, check out this great video from Western Libraries:

Take very careful notes as you read your sources! This will help you trace themes and develop an argument. Check out the following two videos on writing a research paper, and make an appointment at the Dalhousie Writing Centre if you would like assistance with your writing.

  • Dalhousie Writing Centre: Make an appointment
  • Video tutorial: Writing a research paper, Part 1
  • Writing Research Papers Part 2 Draft -- Revise -- Proof read -- References

Very important! When you use somebody else's words or ideas in your academic papers, you must to give credit to the original source. This is one of the reasons why keeping good notes is so important to the research process.

Jump to the MLA Citation page of this guide.

  • << Previous: Citation management
  • Next: Borrowing books from other universities (Document Delivery) >>
  • Last Updated: May 29, 2024 1:38 PM
  • URL: https://dal.ca.libguides.com/English

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How to write a Research Paper – Step by Step Guide

How to write a research paper step by step

A Step-by-Step Guide to writing a research paper


Writing a research paper is a job that we all have to do in our academic life. A research paper represents the ideas of the person who writes it. In simple words, a research paper presents an original idea and substantiates it with logical arguments. Writing a research paper in the domain of English literature is very different compared to writing research articles in other domains. Literature inclines towards abstract thinking. In other subjects, one has to stick to the facts. Howsoever you try, disputing an idea of science becomes very difficult. On the other hand, to contradict an idea in the purview of literature, you just need a systematic flow of arguments (logical and valid) and it’s done! So, writing a research paper in the field of English literature becomes easy if arguments are strong, in a sequence and wisely crafted.

Step 1: Choose the topic of your research paper:

This is one of the most vital parts. Choosing a topic is a crucial choice to make and it has to be taken seriously. You have to choose the area of your interest in English literature and then narrow it down to the area of your expertise. You cannot write a paper on the topics which are wider than a Doctoral thesis! So, you have to be precise and wise while choosing your topic.

An example: Suppose a person has adequate knowledge about Matthew Arnold. Can he write a research article on Arnold alone? No! He will need to bring the topic to some specific idea related to Arnold. The possibilities may be in his prose or poetry writing. In certain states in India, students work on topics like “Matthew Arnold as a poet” and “Matthew Arnold as a great prose writer” which is invalid, injustice and academically a sin. It should not be encouraged! Someone being a poet cannot be a subject of a research article. Any special quality of someone’s poetry writing can certainly be an interesting topic of a research paper – now you must have the idea. ‘Hopelessness and Despair in the poetry of Matthew Arnold’ can be a topic for a brilliant research paper. The hint is very simple – narrow it down to the speciality and you will have your topic ready!

Read in detail – How to choose a research topic? 

Step 2: Collect information – primary and secondary sources:

Now that you have selected a topic for your research paper, you should find ‘credible sources’ that substantiate your ‘paper’s purpose’. Sources are divided into two major categories – primary and secondary. Primary sources are the materials produced by the people who feature in your topic. In the case of our example above, poetry by Matthew Arnold and other writings by him will be primary sources. Secondary sources are the writings ‘about the topic and anything related to the topic’. Therefore, you have to browse the internet, visit a library, check your bookshelves and do anything that will bring you information about the topic and anything that relates to the topic.

Step 3: Plan your research article:

Before you begin writing the paper, it’s always wise to have a clear plan in your mind. Planning a research paper in the domain of English literature should always begin with a clear ‘purpose of research’ in your mind. Why are you writing this paper? What point do you want to make? How significant is that point? Do you have your arguments to support the point (or idea) that you want to establish? Do you have enough credible sources that support the arguments you want to make in the body of the paper? If all the answers are positive, move to the next step and begin writing the drafts for your paper.

Step 4: Writing the first draft of your research paper:

Now it comes to writing the paper’s first draft. Before you begin writing, have a clear picture of your paper in your mind. It will make the job easier. What does a research paper look like? Or, rather, what’s the ideal structure of a research paper?

Beginning – Introduce your idea that drives the research paper. How do you approach that idea? What is your paper – an analysis, review of a book or two ideas compared or something else. The introduction must tell the story of your research in brief – ideas, a highlight or arguments and the glimpse of conclusion. It is generally advised that the introduction part should be written in the end so that you have the final research paper clearly justified, introduced and highlighted at the beginning itself.

Middle – And here goes the meat of your paper. All that you have to emphasise, euphemise, compare, collaborate and break down will take place in the middle or the body of your research paper. Please be careful once you begin writing the body of your paper. This is what will impact your readers (or the examiners or the teachers) the most. You have to be disciplined, systematic, clever and also no-nonsense. Make your points and support them with your arguments. Arguments should be logical and based on textual proofs (if required). Analyse, compare or collaborate as required to make your arguments sharp and supportive to the proposition that you make. The example topic of a research paper that we chose somewhere above in this article – Hopelessness and Despair in the Poetry of Matthew Arnold will require the person writing this paper to convince the readers (and so on) that actually Arnold’s poetry gives a sign of the two negative attitudes picked as the topic. It would be wise to analyse the works (and instances from them, to be specific) The Scholar Gypsy, Empedocles on Etna, Dover Beach and others that support the proposition made in the topic for research. You can use primary and secondary sources and cite them wisely as required. You have to convince the readers of your paper that what you propose in the purpose of the research paper stands on the ground as a logical and valid proposition.

End – Or the conclusion of a research paper that should be written wisely and carefully. You can use a few of your strongest arguments here to strike the final balance and make your proposition justified. After a few of your strongest arguments are made, you can briefly summarise your research topic and exhibit your skills of writing to close the lid by justifying why you are proposing that you have concluded what you began. Make sure that you leave the least possible loopholes for conjecture after you conclude your paper.

Reference: You can use two of the most used styles (or rather only used) to give a list of references in your paper – APA or MLA. Whatever you choose needs to be constant throughout the paper.

To summarise, here is what a research paper should look like:

  • Introduction
  • A list of References

Step 5: Read & re-read your draft: It gives you the chance to judge your research paper and find the possible shortcomings so that you can make amends and finalise your paper before you print it out for your academic requirements. While you read your first draft, treat it with a purpose to find contradictions and conjecture points as much as possible. Wherever you find the chances of contradiction possible, you have to make those arguments forceful and more logical and substantiate them to bypass the fear of being contradicted (and defeated). Let us be clear – it is English literature we are dealing with and there will be contradictions. Don’t fear it. However, make sure your arguments are not defeated. The defeat means your paper will not hold up to the scrutiny of the experts. And this is why you need to read and re-read the first draft of your literature research paper.

Step 6: Finalise & print your research paper: After reading your paper 1 or 2 times, you should be sure what needs to be changed and otherwise. Finalise it so that it appears the best and sounds good to be the final version. Print your work in the best possible quality and you are done! If there is a verbal question-answer associated with the paper you prepare, make sure you understand it completely and are ready for the questions from any possible side of your topic.

This was our step-by-step guide to writing a research paper in the field of English literature. We hope you have found it useful. We will write more articles associated with the concept – such as choosing a research topic, building arguments, writing powerful introductions. Make sure you subscribe to our website so that you are notified whenever we post a new article on English Literature Education! All the best with your paper!

More guides on How to Subjects: 

How to Study Poetry?

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Thank you so much, explanation about research work is a nice manner. (private information retracted)

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Very well written article! Thanks for this. I was confused about my research paper. I am sure I can do it now.

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Quite resourceful. thank you.

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Very nice reseach paper

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It was very nice reading, helpful for writing research paper.

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Thanks for your kind sharing of the information

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Normally, I don’t leave any replies after reading a blog, but I couldn’t help this time. I found this blog very useful. So, I’m writing my research paper and I’ve been racking my brain and the internet for a good topic, plus trying to learn how to write a research paper. Thank you so much for putting this up!

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I want to work on The French Revolution and its impact on romantic poetry. Please help in this regard.

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Thanks a lot for the information.

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Writing a research proposal for the PhD in English Literature

You apply for the PhD in English Literature through the University’s online Degree Finder. Here is our guidance on how to write an effective application.

The two elements of an application that are most useful to us when we consider a candidate for the PhD in English Literature are the sample of written work and the research proposal.

You will probably choose your sample of written work from an already-completed undergraduate or masters-level dissertation or term-paper.

Your research proposal will be something new. It will describe the project that you want to complete for your PhD.

Your research proposal

Take your time in composing your research proposal, carefully considering the requirements outlined below. Your proposal should not be more than 2,000 words .

PhD degrees are awarded on the basis of a thesis of up to 100,000 words. The ‘Summary of roles and responsibilities’ in the University’s Code of Practice for Supervisors and Research Students stipulates what a research thesis must do. 

Take me to the Code of Practice for Supervisors and Research Students (August 2020)

It is in the nature of research that, when you begin, you don’t know what you’ll find. This means that your project is bound to change over the time that you spend on it.

In submitting your research proposal, you are not committing yourself absolutely to completing exactly the project it describes in the event that you are accepted. Nevertheless, with the above points in mind, your research proposal should include the following elements, though not necessarily in this order:

1. An account of the body of primary texts that your thesis will examine. This may be work by one author, or several, or many, depending on the nature of the project. It is very unlikely to consist of a single text, however, unless that text is unusually compendious (The Canterbury Tales) or unusually demanding (Finnegans Wake). Unless your range of texts consists in the complete oeuvre of a single writer, you should explain why these texts are the ones that need to be examined in order to make your particular argument.

2. An identification of the existing field or fields of criticism and scholarship of which you will need to gain an ‘adequate knowledge’ in order to complete your thesis. This must include work in existing literary criticism, broadly understood. Usually this will consist of criticism or scholarship on the works or author(s) in question. In the case of very recent writing, or writing marginal to the established literary canon, on which there may be little or no existing critical work, it might include literary criticism written on other works or authors in the same period, or related work in the same mode or genre, or some other exercise of literary criticism that can serve as a reference point for your engagement with this new material.

The areas of scholarship on which you draw are also likely to include work in other disciplines, however. Most usually, these will be arguments in philosophy or critical theory that have informed, or could inform, the critical debate around your primary texts, or may have informed the texts themselves; and/or the historiography of the period in which your texts were written or received. But we are ready to consider the possible relevance of any other body of knowledge to literary criticism, as long as it is one with which you are sufficiently familiar, or could become sufficiently familiar within the period of your degree, for it to serve a meaningful role in your argument.

3. The questions or problems that the argument of your thesis will address; the methods you will adopt to answer those questions or explain those problems; and some explanation of why this particular methodology is the appropriate means of doing so. The problem could take many forms: a simple gap in the existing scholarship that you will fill; a misleading approach to the primary material that you will correct; or a difficulty in the relation of the existing scholarship to theoretical/philosophical, historiographical, or other disciplinary contexts, for example. But in any case, your thesis must engage critically with the scholarship of others by mounting an original argument in relation to the existing work in your field or fields. In this way your project must go beyond the summarising of already-existing knowledge.

4. Finally, your proposal should include a provisional timetable , describing the stages through which you hope your research will move over the course of your degree. It is crucial that, on the one hand, your chosen topic should be substantial enough to require around 80,000 words for its full exploration; and, on the other hand, that it has clear limits which would allow it to be completed in three years.

When drawing up this timetable, keep in mind that these word limits, and these time constraints, will require you to complete 25–30,000 words of your thesis in each of the years of your degree. If you intend to undertake your degree on a part-time basis, the amount of time available simply doubles.

In composing your research proposal you are already beginning the work that could lead, if you are accepted, to the award of a PhD degree. Regard it, then, as a chance to refine and focus your ideas, so that you can set immediately to work in an efficient manner on entry to university. But it bears repeating that that your project is bound to evolve beyond the project described in your proposal in ways that you cannot at this stage predict. No-one can know, when they begin any research work, where exactly it will take them. That provides much of the pleasure of research, for the most distinguished professor as much as for the first-year PhD student. If you are accepted as a candidate in this department, you will be joining a community of scholars still motivated by the thrill of finding and saying something new.

Ready to apply?

If you have read the guidance above and are ready to apply for your PhD in English Literature, you can do so online through the University of Edinburgh's Degree Finder.

Take me to the Degree Finder entry for the PhD in English Literature

If you've got any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Dr Aaron Kelly by email in the first instance.

Email Dr Aaron Kelly

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English Literature: Resources for Graduate Research

Find articles in jumbosearch, search for articles on topics in english in these databases, database search strategies, need more articles, link tufts resources to google scholar.

  • Books on Literary History, Theory, Criticism & More
  • Novels, Poems & Other Primary Texts
  • Literature Reviews
  • Historic Newspapers & More
  • Reviews, Essays & More
  • English & the Digital Humanities
  • How to Find Cited Material
  • Citing Your Sources This link opens in a new window
  • Getting Items that Tufts Doesn't Own
  • Copyright & Publication This link opens in a new window

Developing Search Terms

The first step in picking a topic is to brainstorm by asking yourself a few questions. What do you already know about this topic from your course readings? Are there similar ideas you might want to explore? What are the key concepts that you're interested in pursuing?

Once you've spent a bit of time answering these questions, you can take the concepts you've identified and use the keywords and phrases to start searching for information. Keep in mind that you'll need to build a base of knowledge before you can write effectively.

See the Database Search Strategies box on this page for more help with keyword searching!

Want to discover everything that Tisch Library has on your topic?  Try searching for your topic in JumboSearch, which simultaneously searches across all of the library's resources, including journal articles in databases, online, and in print.

Search by Keyword, Title, Subject, or Creator

Below is a selection of online resources that include a vast number of articles on topics in English, including literary criticism. The resources on this page include articles from both scholarly and popular sources, so be sure to evaluate your sources to make sure that they are appropriate for your project.

  • MLA International Bibliography This database is a classified listing and subject index of scholarly books and articles on modern languages, literatures, folklore and linguistics which has been compiled by the Modern Language Association of America since 1921. The electronic version includes the Bibliography's entire print run and currently contains more than 2 million records.
  • JSTOR JSTOR includes scholarship published in more than 1,400 of the highest-quality academic journals across the humanities, social sciences, and sciences, as well as monographs and other materials valuable for academic work.
  • Project MUSE Provides electronic access to the full text of Johns Hopkins University Press's scholarly publications in the humanities, social sciences, and mathematics.
  • Academic OneFile Academic OneFile has over 8,000 peer-reviewed journals, the majority in full-text, from the world's leading journals and reference sources.
  • Academic Search Premier This multi-disciplinary database provides full text for more than 4,600 journals, including full text for nearly 3,900 peer-reviewed titles.
  • Gale Literature Resource Center Find up-to-date biographical information, overviews, full-text literary criticism and reviews on more than 130,000 writers in all disciplines, from all time periods and from around the world.

Databases respond best to keyword searching.  To search efficiently, turn your research question into a keyword search:

Research Question : How does Gish Jen address issues of American identity?

Search One : (Search with keywords connected by “and”): Gish Jen and American and identity

Search Two : (Truncate some of the keywords using *): Gish Jen and America* and ident*

Search Three : (Add alternate words into the search with “(or)”): Gish Jen and (America* or United States) and (ident* or belong*)

Truncate  keywords where applicable.  Truncation uses the asterisk ( * ) to end a word at its core, allowing you to retrieve many more documents containing variations of the search term.  Truncation can also be used to find the singular and plural forms of a term.  Example: educat* will find educate, educates, education, educators, educating and more.

Looking for more articles? Search Google Scholar to find more information on your topic.

research work in english literature

If you're off campus, you can link Tufts resources to your Google Scholar results. Linking Google Scholar to the Tufts libraries lets Google show you which full-text articles we have access to through the library's subscriptions. Once you link them, Google Scholar will automatically check to see if Tufts provides access to full-text articles. If we do, you'll be able to access the articles directly from Google Scholar, which is especially helpful if you're off campus.  Follow these instructions to link Tufts to Google Scholar:

  • Open Google Scholar .
  • Click on the Parallel Bars icon (hamburger stack) on the upper left side of the Google Scholar page.
  • Scroll down and click on Settings. On the Google Scholar Settings page, click  Library Links  in the left sidebar.
  • Enter Tufts University into the search bar and click search.
  • When prompted, check the box next to Tufts University – Get this Item at Tufts
  • Click  Save  at the bottom of the screen.
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  • Last Updated: Apr 2, 2024 3:34 PM
  • URL: https://researchguides.library.tufts.edu/EnglishGraduateResources

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Chapter Four: Theory, Methodologies, Methods, and Evidence

Research Methods

You are viewing the first edition of this textbook. a second edition is available – please visit the latest edition for updated information..

This page discusses the following topics:

Research Goals

Research method types.

Before discussing research   methods , we need to distinguish them from  methodologies  and  research skills . Methodologies, linked to literary theories, are tools and lines of investigation: sets of practices and propositions about texts and the world. Researchers using Marxist literary criticism will adopt methodologies that look to material forces like labor, ownership, and technology to understand literature and its relationship to the world. They will also seek to understand authors not as inspired geniuses but as people whose lives and work are shaped by social forces.

Example: Critical Race Theory Methodologies

Critical Race Theory may use a variety of methodologies, including

  • Interest convergence: investigating whether marginalized groups only achieve progress when dominant groups benefit as well
  • Intersectional theory: investigating how multiple factors of advantage and disadvantage around race, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. operate together in complex ways
  • Radical critique of the law: investigating how the law has historically been used to marginalize particular groups, such as black people, while recognizing that legal efforts are important to achieve emancipation and civil rights
  • Social constructivism: investigating how race is socially constructed (rather than biologically grounded)
  • Standpoint epistemology: investigating how knowledge relates to social position
  • Structural determinism: investigating how structures of thought and of organizations determine social outcomes

To identify appropriate methodologies, you will need to research your chosen theory and gather what methodologies are associated with it. For the most part, we can’t assume that there are “one size fits all” methodologies.

Research skills are about how you handle materials such as library search engines, citation management programs, special collections materials, and so on.

Research methods  are about where and how you get answers to your research questions. Are you conducting interviews? Visiting archives? Doing close readings? Reviewing scholarship? You will need to choose which methods are most appropriate to use in your research and you need to gain some knowledge about how to use these methods. In other words, you need to do some research into research methods!

Your choice of research method depends on the kind of questions you are asking. For example, if you want to understand how an author progressed through several drafts to arrive at a final manuscript, you may need to do archival research. If you want to understand why a particular literary work became a bestseller, you may need to do audience research. If you want to know why a contemporary author wrote a particular work, you may need to do interviews. Usually literary research involves a combination of methods such as  archival research ,  discourse analysis , and  qualitative research  methods.

Literary research methods tend to differ from research methods in the hard sciences (such as physics and chemistry). Science research must present results that are reproducible, while literary research rarely does (though it must still present evidence for its claims). Literary research often deals with questions of meaning, social conventions, representations of lived experience, and aesthetic effects; these are questions that reward dialogue and different perspectives rather than one great experiment that settles the issue. In literary research, we might get many valuable answers even though they are quite different from one another. Also in literary research, we usually have some room to speculate about answers, but our claims have to be plausible (believable) and our argument comprehensive (meaning we don’t overlook evidence that would alter our argument significantly if it were known).

A literary researcher might select the following:

Theory: Critical Race Theory

Methodology: Social Constructivism

Method: Scholarly

Skills: Search engines, citation management

Wendy Belcher, in  Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks , identifies two main approaches to understanding literary works: looking at a text by itself (associated with New Criticism ) and looking at texts as they connect to society (associated with Cultural Studies ). The goal of New Criticism is to bring the reader further into the text. The goal of Cultural Studies is to bring the reader into the network of discourses that surround and pass through the text. Other approaches, such as Ecocriticism, relate literary texts to the Sciences (as well as to the Humanities).

The New Critics, starting in the 1940s,  focused on meaning within the text itself, using a method they called “ close reading .” The text itself becomes e vidence for a particular reading. Using this approach, you should summarize the literary work briefly and q uote particularly meaningful passages, being sure to introduce quotes and then interpret them (never let them stand alone). Make connections within the work; a sk  “why” and “how” the various parts of the text relate to each other.

Cultural Studies critics see all texts  as connected to society; the critic  therefore has to connect a text to at least one political or social issue. How and why does  the text reproduce particular knowledge systems (known as discourses) and how do these knowledge systems relate to issues of power within the society? Who speaks and when? Answering these questions helps your reader understand the text in context. Cultural contexts can include the treatment of gender (Feminist, Queer), class (Marxist), nationality, race, religion, or any other area of human society.

Other approaches, such as psychoanalytic literary criticism , look at literary texts to better understand human psychology. A psychoanalytic reading can focus on a character, the author, the reader, or on society in general. Ecocriticism  look at human understandings of nature in literary texts.

We select our research methods based on the kinds of things we want to know. For example, we may be studying the relationship between literature and society, between author and text, or the status of a work in the literary canon. We may want to know about a work’s form, genre, or thematics. We may want to know about the audience’s reading and reception, or about methods for teaching literature in schools.

Below are a few research methods and their descriptions. You may need to consult with your instructor about which ones are most appropriate for your project. The first list covers methods most students use in their work. The second list covers methods more commonly used by advanced researchers. Even if you will not be using methods from this second list in your research project, you may read about these research methods in the scholarship you find.

Most commonly used undergraduate research methods:

  • Scholarship Methods:  Studies the body of scholarship written about a particular author, literary work, historical period, literary movement, genre, theme, theory, or method.
  • Textual Analysis Methods:  Used for close readings of literary texts, these methods also rely on literary theory and background information to support the reading.
  • Biographical Methods:  Used to study the life of the author to better understand their work and times, these methods involve reading biographies and autobiographies about the author, and may also include research into private papers, correspondence, and interviews.
  • Discourse Analysis Methods:  Studies language patterns to reveal ideology and social relations of power. This research involves the study of institutions, social groups, and social movements to understand how people in various settings use language to represent the world to themselves and others. Literary works may present complex mixtures of discourses which the characters (and readers) have to navigate.
  • Creative Writing Methods:  A literary re-working of another literary text, creative writing research is used to better understand a literary work by investigating its language, formal structures, composition methods, themes, and so on. For instance, a creative research project may retell a story from a minor character’s perspective to reveal an alternative reading of events. To qualify as research, a creative research project is usually combined with a piece of theoretical writing that explains and justifies the work.

Methods used more often by advanced researchers:

  • Archival Methods: Usually involves trips to special collections where original papers are kept. In these archives are many unpublished materials such as diaries, letters, photographs, ledgers, and so on. These materials can offer us invaluable insight into the life of an author, the development of a literary work, or the society in which the author lived. There are at least three major archives of James Baldwin’s papers: The Smithsonian , Yale , and The New York Public Library . Descriptions of such materials are often available online, but the materials themselves are typically stored in boxes at the archive.
  • Computational Methods:  Used for statistical analysis of texts such as studies of the popularity and meaning of particular words in literature over time.
  • Ethnographic Methods:  Studies groups of people and their interactions with literary works, for instance in educational institutions, in reading groups (such as book clubs), and in fan networks. This approach may involve interviews and visits to places (including online communities) where people interact with literary works. Note: before you begin such work, you must have  Institutional Review Board (IRB)  approval “to protect the rights and welfare of human participants involved in research.”
  • Visual Methods:  Studies the visual qualities of literary works. Some literary works, such as illuminated manuscripts, children’s literature, and graphic novels, present a complex interplay of text and image. Even works without illustrations can be studied for their use of typography, layout, and other visual features.

Regardless of the method(s) you choose, you will need to learn how to apply them to your work and how to carry them out successfully. For example, you should know that many archives do not allow you to bring pens (you can use pencils) and you may not be allowed to bring bags into the archives. You will need to keep a record of which documents you consult and their location (box number, etc.) in the archives. If you are unsure how to use a particular method, please consult a book about it. [1] Also, ask for the advice of trained researchers such as your instructor or a research librarian.

  • What research method(s) will you be using for your paper? Why did you make this method selection over other methods? If you haven’t made a selection yet, which methods are you considering?
  • What specific methodological approaches are you most interested in exploring in relation to the chosen literary work?
  • What is your plan for researching your method(s) and its major approaches?
  • What was the most important lesson you learned from this page? What point was confusing or difficult to understand?

Write your answers in a webcourse discussion page.

research work in english literature

  • Introduction to Research Methods: A Practical Guide for Anyone Undertaking a Research Project  by Catherine, Dr. Dawson
  • Practical Research Methods: A User-Friendly Guide to Mastering Research Techniques and Projects  by Catherine Dawson
  • Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches  by John W. Creswell  Cheryl N. Poth
  • Qualitative Research Evaluation Methods: Integrating Theory and Practice  by Michael Quinn Patton
  • Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches  by John W. Creswell  J. David Creswell
  • Research Methodology: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners  by Ranjit Kumar
  • Research Methodology: Methods and Techniques  by C.R. Kothari

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

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Most Read in Literature

Most Read in Literature

From Shakespeare's plays to modern literary trends, explore a collection of our most read recent articles and chapters from our literature portfolio. Enhance your knowledge with free access to these highlights from our books and journals until December 2022. 

Browse our collections

Browse our journals, browse our books, perilous networks: risk and maritime news in the merchant of venice, manuscript precedents for editorial practices in john benson’s poems: written by wil. shake-speare. gent, the surreal technics of andré breton and gilbert simondon, état présent lgbtq+ studies, humanities in the time of covid: the humanities coronavirus syllabus, li qingzhao and ecofeminism: body and language, intimacy: an alternative model for literary translation, porosity and the transnational: travelling theory between naples and frankfurt (walter benjamin, asja lacis and ernst bloch), encyclopaedic autobiography in roland barthes’s roland barthes (1975) and amy krouse rosenthal’s encyclopedia of an ordinary life (2004), “in de affica soil”: slavery, ethnography, and recovery in zora neale hurston’s barracoon: the story of the “last black cargo”, event, trauma, and ethics in wing tek lum’s the nanjing massacre, aphra behn: portraiture and the biographical account, the style of the old english metrical charms, the luster of studying contemporary publishing, literature and publishing, 1945–2020, ‘surrealism found me’: british surrealism and encounter, anti-narratives of slavery in colson whitehead’s the underground railroad, narratives of displacement: on embodied experience of migration in ulitskaya, lindén, and palei, jennifer egan, new sincerity, and the genre turn in contemporary fiction, mixed feelings, writing white: martha collins’s poetry of collective memory, on the parenthesis in t. s. eliot’s the cultivation of christmas trees, the hawks and the doves: raptors and rapture in the poems of thom gunn and ted hughes, discovery of zobel’s lost wartime short story: ‘bo-bo-bo-o’ or ‘up yours, hitler’, compare and contrast the relationship between voice, space, and forms of intimacy in two or more of the films studied on this unit, an anonymous caesurae uersuum and aldhelm’s de metris : a common source, the etymology of ‘girl’: two more ideas, illuminated caxtons and the trade in printed books, annotated copies of early editions of johnson's dictionary : a preliminary account, affect theory, modern literature, new literatures, women and books in the seventeenth century, oscar wilde’s world literature, transported, what made milton, ‘a profit to people’, introduction: placing early modern criticism, répétition planétaire, introduction: 26 april 1564, a room of one’s own, woolf’s “little book on poetry”, affiliations.

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Department of English Language and Literature, The University of Chicago

Fields of Study

University of Chicago

Research in English used to be categorized by traditional field designations such as Renaissance or Victorian, but Chicago's English faculty have always been more interested in critical inquiry (the journal Critical Inquiry was founded and lives here) than in working within categorical boxes. That exploratory ethos continues to unify us as a department and animate our research interests, which are otherwise various, even heterogeneous, and which are constantly evolving.

Research interests, however, may be defined in a variety of ways and at various degrees of specification. For instance, a scholar such as Ken Warren , who has written a book on Ralph Ellison, could be said to be working within the American field, but also within the fields of African American literature and literary history. Visitors to this site may also have many interests, at many levels. They may want to identify the subset of faculty who are working in a specific  historical period  such as the Renaissance, on a particular  object of study  such as the novel, or on a specialized  theoretical or methodological problem  such as gender and sexuality . See the lists and categories below to help guide your search.

Research Clusters

Cultural studies and global literatures.

  • Black Studies 
  • Caribbean Studies
  • African-American Literature
  • African Literature in English
  • Asian American/Pacific Studies
  • Global Anglophone
  • Latinx/Indigenous/Comparative Americas
  • American Literature
  • Early American
  • 20-21c American
  • American Literature and Cultural Studies
  • African-American
  • British Literature
  • Medieval and Early Renaissance
  • Renaissance 
  • 18th c British/ Romanticism
  • 19th c British/British Empire
  • 20-21c British
  • British Culture

Critical Theory, Methodology, or Objects of Study

  • Critical Theory/Cultural Studies
  • Drama/Theater and Performance Studies
  • Gender and Sexuality Studies
  • Media Studies
  • Poetry and Poetics
  • Postcolonial/Decolonial

Common Areas of Academic Study

  • 18th Century British/Romanticism
  • 19th Century
  • 20/21st Century British Literature
  • 20th Century American Literature
  • Black Studies
  • Caribbean Studies
  • Critical Theory and Objects of Study
  • Global Literatures
  • Renaissance
  • Harvard Library
  • Research Guides
  • Faculty of Arts & Sciences Libraries

Literature: A Research Guide for Graduate Students

Find a database.

  • Get Started
  • Research Dos & Don'ts

research work in english literature

Odile Harter

Research Librarian

Email Me

  • General Education
  • Romance Languages

The library offers licensed access to over 1,000 different databases and electronic text collections. The full list is at databases.hollis.harvard.edu. See below for my top picks for graduate students in literary studies, plus tips on how to search the full list effectively.

And remember, get in touch when you're starting a new project or area of research! I'm always happy to recommend databases, or to sit down with you to explore the best ways to make use of databases for a project.

Start here:

  • HOLLIS This is a touchstone for all Harvard researchers---it's the library's main catalog plus a giant index of articles, and it's one of the places you'll search the most while you're here.
  • WorldCat WorldCat is a union catalog that allows you to find books in library collections across the U.S. and beyond. This is the place to look for things Harvard might be missing. The link above takes you to the licensed "FirstSearch" interface, which provides more precision search features than the free, user-friendlier worldcat.org.
  • Literary Research in Harvard Libraries This guide covers all the basic databases that are an absolute must for literary researchers, including the MLA International Bibliography, Literature Online (LION), the OED, Cambridge Companions, and many more. Start there, and then supplement with the additional databases below.

Additional top picks for literary studies: searchable full-text scholarship

  • JSTOR Full-text of the full runs of scholarly journals from a range of disciplines. Harvard's subscription includes all journal titles in the JSTOR collection. N.b. there is often a "moving wall" excluding recent issues.
  • Arts & Humanities Full Text A high-quality collection of about 500 journals and magazines in humanities disciplines. Great for a highly curated interdisciplinary search.
  • Cambridge University Press All of Cambridge University Press's online content. Harvard licenses all of the Companions and Histories as well as some of the journals and books. The uber-interface can be a bit bewildering: to search within specific collections such as journals, books, etc., start from "what we publish" (an option in the top nav bar). If you hit a paywall, search for the title in HOLLIS; Harvard may have licensed the book or journal via a different platform.
  • Google Books A full-text database of books, part of which comes from scans Google made of out-of-copyright library materials, and part of which are supplied directly to Google by publishers. Great for previewing a book you're interested in, for finding just-published books, for exploring a topic when you don't know the library subject headings, etc.
  • Project Muse One of the three major platforms Harvard licenses for university press books, each with a different selection of presses. Project Muse also offers scholarly journals, primarily humanities and social sciences. No restrictions on recent issues (unlike JSTOR).
  • UPSO: University Press Scholarship Online One of the three major platforms the library licenses for e-books from university presses. They each offer a different selection of presses--UPSO features Oxford plus a bunch of other university presses.
  • De Gruyter University Press Library One of the three major platforms Harvard licenses for university press books, each with a different selection of presses. De Gruyter features Harvard, Columbia, Penn, Toronto, and de Gruyter. An extensive selection of Harvard titles; for the other presses our access focuses on the past 3-4 years.
  • Google Scholar Make sure to install the Harvard Library Bookmarklet and/or add Harvard to your "library links" under Google Scholar's Settings so that you can access articles that Harvard has licensed for you. Google Scholar is an algorithmically harvested database of articles and other material that is *probably* scholarly. Mostly full-text.

How to search the full databases list

databases.hollis.harvard.edu searches descriptions of the databases Harvard subscribes to. The search interface recognizes all of HOLLIS's search operators .

Suggested search strategies:

  • Subject = Language and Literature
  • Keyword in database description =  Literature
  • Keyword in database description =  Writer* OR author*
  • Keyword in database description =  Fiction OR poems OR poet* OR novel* OR play* OR drama
  • Keyword in database description = 18th OR eighteenth [edit to match your preferred time period]
  • Keyword in database description = Chinese OR China OR Sino* [edit to match your preferred region or language]
  • << Previous: Get Started
  • Next: Research Dos & Don'ts >>

Except where otherwise noted, this work is subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , which allows anyone to share and adapt our material as long as proper attribution is given. For details and exceptions, see the Harvard Library Copyright Policy ©2021 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College.

Department of English and Related Literature

PhD in English and Related Literature

Work in an intellectually invigorating environment and be supported by supervisors who are experts in their field.

Be inspired to reach your research ambitions in an intellectual and supportive community at the forefront of English research.

Your research

The diversity of our staff’s research interests means that we are well-positioned to supervise research in any field of literature, from the Middle Ages to the present day, including literature in languages other than English, and literary works in translation.

We also have distinctive expertise in practice-led teaching and research, including archival work and printing. The PhD in English and Related Literature is available on a full-time or part-time basis.

Under the guidance of your supervisor, you'll complete a thesis of up to 80,000 words. A typical semester will involve a great deal of independent research, punctuated by meetings with your supervisor who will be able to suggest direction and address concerns throughout the writing process. You'll be encouraged to undertake periods of research at archives and potentially internationally, depending on your research thesis.

Throughout your degree, you'll have the opportunity to attend a wide range of research training sessions in order to learn archival and research skills, and a range of research seminars organised by the research schools, which bring speakers from around the world for research talks and networking. There is also internal funding available if you wish to propose research events and symposia/conferences.

[email protected] +44 (0) 1904 323366

Related links

  • How to apply
  • Research degree funding
  • Accommodation
  • International students
  • Life at York

You also have the option of enrolling in a PhD in English by distance learning, where you will have the flexibility to work from anywhere in the world. You will attend the Research Training Programme online in your first year and have supervision and progression meetings online.

You must attend a five-day induction programme in York at the beginning of your first year. You will also visit York in your second and third years (every other year for part-time students).

Apply for PhD in English and Related Literature (distance learning)

Top ten department

We're a top ten research department according to the Times Higher Education’s ranking of the latest REF results (2021).

35th in the world

for English Language and Literature in the QS World University Rankings by Subject, 2023.

Athena Swan Bronze

We're proud to hold an Athena Swan Bronze award in recognition of the work we do to support gender equality in English.

research work in english literature

Explore funding for postgraduate researchers in the Department of English and Related Literature.

research work in english literature


Explore the expertise of our staff and identify a potential supervisor.

Research training

You'll receive training in research methods and skills appropriate to the stage you've reached and the nature of your work. In addition to regular supervisory meetings to discuss planning, researching and writing the thesis, we offer sessions on bibliographic and archival resources (digital, print and manuscript). You'll receive guidance in applying to and presenting at professional conferences, preparing and submitting material for publication and applying for jobs. We meet other training needs in handling research data, various modern languages, palaeography and bibliography. Classical and medieval Latin are also available.

We also offer training in teaching skills for students who wish to pursue teaching posts following their degree. This includes sessions on the delivery and content of seminars and workshops to undergraduates, a structured shadowing programme, teaching inductions and comprehensive guidance and resources for our graduate teaching assistants. Our teacher training is directed by a dedicated staff member.

You'll also benefit from the rich array of research and training sessions at the Humanities Research Centre .

research work in english literature

Course location

This course is run by the Department of English and Related Literature.

You'll be based on  Campus West , though your research may take you further afield.

We also have a distance learning option available for this course.

Entry requirements

For doctoral research, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve a first-class or high upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualification) and a Masters degree with distinction. 

The undergraduate and Masters degrees should be in literature, or in a related subject that is closely tied to the proposed research project. 

Other relevant experience and expertise may also be considered:

  • Evidence of training in research techniques may be an advantage.
  • It is expected that postgraduate applicants would be familiar with the recent published work of their proposed supervisor.
  • Publications are not required and we don't expect applicants to have been published before they start their research degrees.

Supervisors interview prospective research students to ensure good supervisory match and to help with funding applications.

The core deciding factor for admission is the quality of the research proposal, though your whole academic profile will be taken into account. We are committed to ensuring that no prospective or existing student is treated less favourably. See our admissions policy for more information.

Apply for the PhD in English and Related Literature

Have a look at the supporting documents you may need for your application.

Before applying, we advise you to identify potential supervisors in the department. Preliminary enquiries are welcomed and should be made as early as possible. However, a scattershot approach – emailing all staff members regardless of the relationship between their research interests and yours – is unlikely to produce positive results. 

If it's not clear which member of staff is appropriate, you should email the Graduate Chair .

Students embarking on a PhD programme are initially enrolled provisionally for that qualification. Confirmation of PhD registration is dependent upon the submission of a satisfactory proposal that meets the standards required for the degree, usually in the second year of study.

Find out more about how to apply .

English language requirements

You'll need to provide evidence of your proficiency in English if it's not your first language.

Check your English language requirements

Research proposals

In order to apply for a PhD, we ask that you submit a research proposal as part of your application.

When making your application, you're advised to make your research proposals as specific and clear as possible. Please indicate the member(s) of staff that you'd wish to work with.

Your research proposal should:

  • Identify the precise topic of your topic and communicate the main aim of your research.
  • Provide a rigorous and thorough description of your proposed research, including the contributions you will make to current scholarly conversations and debates.
  • Describe any previous work you have done in this area, with reference to relevant literature you have read so far.
  • Communicate the central sources that the project will address and engage.
  • Offer an outline of the argument’s main claims and contributions. Give a clear indication of the authors and texts that your project will address.
  • Include the academic factors, such as university facilities, libraries resources, centres, other resources, and / or staff, which have specifically led you to apply to York.

What we look for:

  • How you place your topic in conversation with the scholarly landscape: what has been accomplished and what you plan to achieve. This is your chance to show that you have a good understanding of the relevant work on your topic and that you have identified a new way or research question to approach the topic.
  • Your voice as a scholar and critical thinker. In clean, clear prose, show those who will assess your application how your proposal demonstrates your original thinking and the potential of your research.
  • Your fit with York, including the reasons for working with your supervisor and relevant research schools and centres.
  • Above all, remember that there isn’t one uniform way to structure and arrange your research proposal, and that your approach will necessarily reflect your chosen topic.

Careers and skills

  • You'll receive support in applying to and presenting at professional conferences, preparing and submitting material for publication and applying for jobs.
  • You'll benefit from training in handling research data, various modern languages, palaeography and bibliography. Classical and medieval Latin are also available. The   Humanities Research Centre   also offers a rich array of valuable training sessions.
  • We also offer training in teaching skills if you wish to pursue a teaching post following your degree. This includes sessions on the delivery and content of seminars and workshops to undergraduates, a structured shadowing programme, teaching inductions and comprehensive guidance and resources for our graduate teaching assistants.
  • You'll have the opportunity to further your training by taking courses accredited by Advance HE:   York Learning and Teaching Award (YLTA)   and the   York Professional and Academic Development scheme (YPAD) .

Find out more about careers

research work in english literature

Discover York

research work in english literature

We offer a range of campus accommodation to suit you and your budget, from economy to deluxe.

research work in english literature

Discover more about our researchers, facilities and why York is the perfect choice for your research degree.

research work in english literature

Graduate Research School

Connect with researchers across all disciplines to get the most out of your research project.

Find a supervisor

Explore our staff expertise

Find out all you need to know about applying to York

Find funding to support your studies


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