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EH501 -- Introduction to Graduate Study in English: Home

This LibGuide is the companion guide to the EH501 course offered by the English Department at Jacksonville State University. It is intended for graduate students and rising professionals in the field, and its content may be used to complement other EH cou

Page Overview

This page contains information on literary criticism and also offers suggestions on finding/writing book reviews and literature reviews. 

Literature Librarian

Harry Nuttall's picture
Harry Nuttall
7th Floor
Houston Cole Library
Jacksonville State University
700 Pelham Rd N
Jacksonville, AL 36265

Library Catalog Basic Search

Basic search in the Houston Cole Library catalog. 

Search Catalog: by:

Advanced Search

Find Journal(s)

Search for Journal Title
Limit Your Results

Literary Criticism Defined

According to the entry for Criticism in the Handbook to Lterature, 10th edition (Ref PN41.H355  2006), criticism is defined as "[t]he analysis, study, and evaluation of individual works of art, as well as the formulation of general principles for the examination of such works."  This and a companion entry, Criticism, Types of, are good points of departure for further, in-depth study of literary criticism.

The Handbook to Literature also provides brief defining/descriptive entries for the better known approaches to literary criticism, such as feminist criticism, historical criticism, New Criticism, etc.

Critical Case Studies

What is a case study?

A case study is a book that examines a subject from a variety of approaches or perspectives. 

  • quite common in the social sciences 
  • literary case studies often take the form of examination of a literary work from a variety of critical approaches
    • cf.

A book that is a case study may not reveal this in its title, as the following literary case studies owned by Houston Cole Library illustrate.


LC Subject Headings for Literary Criticism

Literary Criticism falls under the broader rubric of General Literature (LC subclass PN) and has a parallel alphabet (for both reference and circulating books) whose boundaries are approximately PN81 - PN100.  These books are on Houston Cole Library's sixth floor, and if one is perusing the reference section there it would be wise to browse back as far as PN41 in order to harvest the handbooks to literature.

A detailed outline of the class, taken from SuperLCCS: Gale's Library of Congress Classification Schedules, is accessible via the link below.  Notice the "money zone" that begins with PN98.  Many items in the list are critical approaches and could be used to fill database or internet searchboxes when seeking literary criticism of a particular kind.   

Locating Literary Criticism by Approach or School

To locate literary criticism written from a particular critical approach:

  • consult the literature review annuals American Literary Scholarship (Ref PS3.A47) and  Year's Work in English Studies (Ref PE58.E6) to trace critical scholarship on literary topics
  • see if the introduction to a book indicates any critical approaches employed 
  • check book reviews in scholarly journals to see if the book reviewed is written from a specific critical perspective  
  • search Database/Discovery/GemFinder (EBSCOhost)  

Advanced Search 



NOTE: This search should work for both books and articles in journals. The basic template is author, title of work, critical approach, but genre terms such as Gothic novel may be searched this way as well.
Search Strategy Refinements:
Top Box:  High initial numbers of search results may be reduced by putting quotation marks around the term or by changing the field label for the box to SU Subject.  
Middle Box:  To have the work's title searched as a unit, place it within quotation marks or change the field label to TI.  This step also should increase relevance  and reduce the number of results harvested.
NOTE: These steps are sometimes necessary but not always.  The entries in the Subjects line for each result harvested will suggest if there may be more precise ways to fill the search boxes.  
Bottom Box (or middle if the work's title is not included in the search):  The critical approach being sought.  Unlike with the author/work searches, where precision is desired, in this box some flexibility is necessary to prevent relevant results from being omitted.  Concept takes precedence over language: meaning supersedes word, theme with variations dominates strategy, the truncation symbol (*) becomes paramount.  For example:
femini* = feminine, feminism, feminist         
formali* = formalism/formalist                      
histori* =  historical/historicist                      
"new criticism"   [the "  " are necessary for the sake of relevancy in the Results List]
psychol* = psychology/psychologies/psychological

Book Reviews

What is a book review?

At its simplest, a book review is a summary description of a book.

  • focuses on the content, style, and merit of the work 
  • may be popular (such as those found in Kirkus Reviews or Library Journal) or scholarly (peer-reviewed or academic journals)
    • criteria for a review of a belletristic work (e.g., fiction or poetry) differ from those for a scholarly nonfiction work
      • reviews in scholarly journals must conform to a higher, more rigorous standard  than those in popular review sources 

How to write a Book Review (non-academic)


How to Write a Book Review (academic)


Locating Book Reviews in Electronic Databases (EBSCOhost)

Put database in Advanced Search mode

  • Top box: author of review (change the Field from Select a Field default to AU) or
    • title of review (change the Field to TI) or
    • journal in which you are looking for reviews (change Field to SO) or
    • topic about which you are seeking reviews (e.g. Gothic or Paradise Lost, etc.) (change Field to SU)
  • Middle box: review (change the Field to SO; change the Boolean Operator to NOT)
    • this is a BIG DEAL, a necessary step that should block most of the indexed records in which "review" is part of the SO title)
  • Bottom box: review (leave Field in default setting)
  • <Search>

NOTE:  This is the basic rubric; more complex searches can be performed that mix and match the top box terms, but these searches may require either additional search boxes or the use of nesting in combination with manually entered Boolean operators.  Searching non-EBSCO databases may require adjustments depending upon what the interface of that database provides.


Literature Reviews

NOTE: See also this LibGuide by Ms. Karlie Johnson: How to Conduct a Literature Review

What is a literature review?

How to write a literature review