At this point, we’ve become very aware that good sources for our papers are peer-reviewed sources. That’s easy enough. The daunting part is finding those good sources, ones that are specifically relevant to our own work, and ones we have access to and can clearly understand.

What can happen sometimes is that a budding researcher will find one or two go-to resources for good papers and then become frustrated when they discover the limitations of that search tool.

The objective of this article is to not only providing tips for conducting literary research, but to also help you find other available search tools that might help you in this journey.

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Resources for Literary Research

Peer-reviewed publications, reputable newspapers and scholarly books are all references that can be used in scientific writing (Hofmann, 2013). Finding and combing through these references, however, can become tricky.

Popular sources

These popular sources aren’t going to be good references, but they will lead to better topical understanding and help you find quality references. Articles found from this type of research will inform a broader audience.

  • Google search
  • Wikipedia
  • Informative websites
  • Informative articles

Databases and search engines

There a lot of different databases and search engines to help you locate peer-reviewed references. You might already have your go-to resource for this such as PubMed or Google Scholar. Due to some of their limitations, you might need to venture away from your go-to and find other databases for research.

Here is a list of helpful search engines and databases:

  • Google Scholar – Google Scholar has become a popular academic search tool, especially because it provides free full-text links when available and notes the number of times a paper is cited.
  • PubMed – PubMed has more than 20 million biomedical citations with links to full-text when available.
  • Microsoft Academic – Microsoft Academic is similar to Google Scholar. What makes it a little different is that it provides an overview for indexed articles, tags and connects you with related journals, authors, topics and more.
  • CORE - What’s great about CORE is that this academic search engine is focused on providing open-access papers. Paywalls can be a nightmare for research. CORE helps solve this issue.
  • Semantic Scholar – This is a new type of academic search tool that uses AI algorithms to help guide your literary research. Here, connections between papers and topics are already made, providing a productive search.
  • Wikipedia’s list of academic search engines and databases – Because many academic search tools exist, we’re providing a link to Wikipedia’s list. Not only does this page list other tools, but it also details whether subscriptions are needed, if these tools provide full text and if they provide abstracts.

Thesis and Dissertation Search Tools

Searching theses and dissertations can be a great place to start early literary research (Paperpile, n.d.). These sources can help you understand previous approaches and perspectives about your topic. Aside from your institution’s library, there are several resources to help you find theses and dissertations.

Where to begin your literary research

Familiarity can sometimes be the first battle of literary research. To help overcome that, it’s ok to use broader resources such as general websites and Wikipedia (University of Louisville Writing Center, n.d.). While these are not going to be considered good references, they will offer you a foundation into your topic. If references are listed within the articles you find in this preliminary search, this first round of research will provide you with leads to more credible references.

Steps to getting started with your literary research are:

  • Begin a broad topical search using Google and Wikipedia.
  • Keep a running list of keywords, phrases and search terms.
  • Keep a running list of references listed from your initial search, and make a quick note about why it could be useful.
  • Keep a running list of questions that pertain to the background of your own study and general questions you need answered for understanding.
  • Find related theses and dissertations to help you understand relevant approaches and perspectives.
  • Continue building your keyword and reference list.

Tips for finding good sources during literary research

After doing the preliminary, topical research, search for your good sources. Already, you should have a decent list of leads. This list came from cited references from your earlier sources. Your running list of keywords are also going to serve as a helpful tool.

Tips to finding good resources:

  • Start with your go-to search tools. If Google Scholar and PubMed are your top resources, use them.
  • Explore other search tools. This is going to be important when you’re running into a dead-end or limitations in the first step. Use the search tools listed above in the “Resources for literary research” section.
  • Pull out your early list of references. When sources are starting to run dry and you still have unanswered questions or need more information, pull out your list of references from preliminary research and explore them.
  • Look for source leads within your current sources. Your current sources have a reference list and if you’re using certain search tools, like Google Scholar, you’ll see who is also citing these papers. These are excellent leads for your own references.
  • Look at article tags. Many articles are tagged with clickable keywords. The tags can help with your running keyword list. They can also lead you to other relevant sources.
  • Look at review articles for their references. Review articles provide great overviews on a given topic. These types of articles can be very specific, focusing on a given method or evaluating results of a type of study. References cited in these articles will provide you a good list of leads for your own research.
  • Look at references in theses and dissertations. Theses and dissertations can help you gain new perspectives and detailed approaches within your topic. When you find a thesis directly related to your own work, the listed references will most likely be a good lead for your own references.

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Hofmann, A. H. (2013). Writing in the biological sciences: a comprehensive resource for scientific communication. New York: Oxford University Press.

JAMK Library. (n.d.). Find Sources for Your Thesis. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from

Kjellander, D. (n.d.). Top Thesis & Dissertation References on the Web. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from

Paperpile. (n.d.). How to gather data for your thesis. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from

Paperpile. (n.d.). The best academic search engines [2019 update]. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from

University of Louisville Writing Center. (n.d.). How can I find good sources for my research paper? Retrieved May 12, 2020, from