Instructional Materials for Craig White's Literature Courses

Primary, Background,

& Secondary Research

Primary texts in Literature courses are usually works of fiction, poetry, or drama, sometimes historic essays, sermons, speeches, etc. A typical research paper analyzes one, two, or more primary texts. The danger of involving too many texts is that the analysis is spread thin.

Background sources refer to handbooks, encyclopedias, and companions to literature that provide basic generic, biographical, or historical information. In libraries general encyclopedias and dictionaries are located in the A shelves of UHCL's Neumann Library's Reference section. Specialized literary encyclopedias and handbooks are found on the Reference section's PR and PS shelves. On the Web, such sources would include Wikipedia and other more or less specialized literary websites providing common knowledge or basic information on varied topics.

Secondary sources refer to critical articles or books about primary texts or their authors' style in them. (When you write an analytic / research paper, you are creating a secondary source.)

Articles may be found in journals or bound collections of essays. Books of secondary research (histories and analyses of literature) are found on the regular PR and PS shelves of the library, or on the Web through JStor and other web-accessible journals or books. 

To find secondary sources, search the MLA directory database provided by UHCL's Neumann Library—reference librarians will help.

Secondary sources typically represent "advanced research" dealing with curren problems or issues in literary studies. These sources often take "background knowledge" for granted.


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