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EH -- Researching Poems: Strategies for Poetry Research

This Library Guide offers assistance in writing research papers on poems. It provides information on poetry as a literary genre, important elements of poetry, including things to look for in reading a poem, and other information.

Page Overview

This page addresses the research process -- the things that should be done before the actual writing of the paper -- and strategies for engaging in the process.  Although this LibGuide focuses on researching poems or poetry, this particular page is more general in scope and is applicable to most lower-division college research assignments.

Before You Begin

Before beginning any research process, first be absolutely sure you know the requirements of the assignment.  Things such as  

  • the date the completed project is due 
  • the due dates of any intermediate assignments, like turning in a working bibliography or notes
  • the length requirement (minimum word count), if any 
  • the minimum number and types (for example, books or articles from scholarly, peer-reviewed journals) of sources required

These formal requirements are as much a part of the assignment as the paper itself.  They form the box into which you must fit your work.  Do not take them lightly.

When possible, it is helpful to subdivide the overall research process into phases, a tactic which

  • makes the idea of research less intimidating because you are dealing with sections at a time rather than the whole process
  • makes the process easier to manage
  • gives a sense of accomplishment as you move from one phase to the next


Characteristics of a Well-written Paper

Although there are many details that must be given attention in writing a research paper, there are three major criteria which must be met.  A well-written paper is

  • Unified:  the paper has only one major idea; or, if it seeks to address multiple points, one point is given priority and the others are subordinated to it.
  • Coherent: the body of the paper presents its contents in a logical order easy for readers to follow; use of transitional phrases (in addition, because of this, therefore, etc.) between paragraphs and sentences is important.
  • Complete:  the paper delivers on everything it promises and does not leave questions in the mind of the reader; everything mentioned in the introduction is discussed somewhere in the paper; the conclusion does not introduce new ideas or anything not already addressed in the paper.

Basic Research Strategy

Things to Keep in Mind

Although a research assignment can be daunting, there are things which can make the process less stressful, more manageable, and yield a better result.  And they are generally applicable across all types and levels of research.

1.  Be aware of the parameters of the assignment: topic selection options, due date, length requirement, source requirements.  These form the box into which you must fit your work.  

2. Treat the assignment as a series of components or stages rather than one undivided whole.

  • devise a schedule for each task in the process: topic selection and refinement (background/overview information), source material from books (JaxCat), source material from journals (databases/Discovery), other sources (internet, interviews, non-print materials); the note-taking, drafting, and editing processes.
  • stick to your timetable.  Time can be on your side as a researcher, but only if you keep to your schedule and do not delay or put everything off until just before the assignment deadline. 

3.  Leave enough time between your final draft and the submission date of your work that you can do one final proofread after the paper is no longer "fresh" to you.  You may find passages that need additional work because you see that what is on the page and what you meant to write are quite different.  Even better, have a friend or classmate read your final draft before you submit it.  A fresh pair of eyes sometimes has clearer vision. 

4.  If at any point in the process you encounter difficulties, consult a librarian.  Hunters use guides; fishermen use guides.  Explorers use guides.  When you are doing research, you are an explorer in the realm of ideas; your librarian is your guide. 


A Note on Sources

Research requires engagement with various types of sources.

  • Primary sources: the thing itself, such as letters, diaries, documents, a painting, a sculpture; in lower-division literary research, usually a play, poem, or short story.
  • Secondary sources: information about the primary source, such as books, essays, journal articles, although images and other media also might be included.  Companions, dictionaries, and encyclopedias are secondary sources.
  • Tertiary sources: things such as bibliographies, indexes, or electronic databases (minus the full text) which serve as guides to point researchers toward secondary sources.  A full text database would be a combination of a secondary and tertiary source; some books have a bibliography of additional sources in the back.

Accessing sources requires going through various "information portals," each designed to principally support a certain type of content.  Houston Cole Library provides four principal information portals:

  • JaxCat online catalog: books, although other items such as journals, newspapers, DVDs, and musical scores also may be searched for.
  • Electronic databases: journal articles, newspaper stories, interviews, reviews (and a few books; JaxCat still should be the "go-to" portal for books).  JaxCat indexes records for the complete item: the book, journal, newspaper, CD but has no records for parts of the complete item: the article in the journal, the editorial in the newspaper, the song off the CD.  Databases contain records for these things.
  • Discovery Search: mostly journal articles, but also (some) books and (some) random internet pages.  Discovery combines elements of the other three information portals and is especially useful for searches where one is researching a new or obscure topic about which little is likely to be written, or does not know where the desired information may be concentrated.  Discovery is the only portal which permits simul-searching across databases provided by multiple vendors.
  • Internet (Bing, Dogpile, DuckDuckGo, Google, etc.): primarily webpages, especially for businesses (.com), government divisions at all levels (.gov), or organizations (.org). as well as pages for primary source-type documents such as lesson plans and public-domain books.  While book content (Google Books) and journal articles (Google Scholar) are accessible, these are not the strengths of the internet and more successful searches for this type of content can be performed through JaxCat and the databases.  

NOTE: There is no predetermined hierarchy among these information portals as regards which one should be used most or gone to first.  These considerations depend on the task at hand and will vary from assignment o assignment.

The link below provides further information on the different source types.