Presentation of Written
Methodologies for Research
Using Secondary Sources
Beginning Your Research
Beyond the Library Catalogue
of Written Work
Some information on the format
of your document can be found in the handout "Citing Authorities
in an English Essay"; what follows in this section is a supplement
to this, and to information provided by your instructor.
- Written work should be submitted double-spaced,
preferably typewritten or computer-printed, although legible handwriting
will also be accepted.
- The paper should be standard 8 1/2 x 11
inch (letter size) paper. Use one side of the paper only.
- Use 1 inch margins for all four edges
of the paper except the top, which should be a 1/2 inch margin
to accommodate a "Header" (see below); the first line
of your title (first page only) or text should, however, still
be 1 inch below the top of the paper.
- Each page should be numbered consecutively
in the top-right hand corner of the page. You may, if you choose,
use a "Header" that gives your name as well as page number, aligned,
again, to the top-right hand corner of the page.
- Use a font size that will permit no more
than about 250 words per page (12 point Courier is good, although
you may also use Times New Roman or Times Roman, or any other
font that is easy to read).
- Submit the work fastened by a paper clip
rather than by staples; do not have it "bound" in any way.
- Do not use justification on the right
margin: text should be justified only to the left margin.
- The text of your essay should always
be double-spaced (including inset quotes). The MLA Handbook
also suggests double-spacing for notes and your list of works
- Footnotes should be separated from the
main text by at least two lines; endnotes appear on a separate
page, headed "Endnotes."
- Use underlining or italics in your paper
for the title of works that were originally published separately
(quote marks are used for works that originally appeared in, or
appended to, another work). Never use bold, unless it appears
in the text that you are citing. Never use different sized fonts.
- When quoting or using words that normally
include diacritical marks (accents, etc.), make sure that you
reproduce these as well, either by hand or with your printer (e.g.,
école, not ecole).
- Foreign words that are not themselves
in normal English usage should be underlined (or in italics) (e.g.,
jeu, not jeu, but repartee, not repartee).
- The guidelines for layout that appear
in the more recent editions of the MLA
(Modern Language Association) Handbook are recommended.
This resource is available in a cheap printed editions, and is
a highly recommended purchase for anyone contemplating a programme
in English literature. For a visual sample of an English essay
formatted according to the MLA guidelines (and written
by a particularly promising student of English literature), consult
Essay in MLA Style available on this site.
Your thesis statement is far and away the
most important part of your paper: if this is flawed, all else that
follows will seem incomprehensible. Make sure that you spend some
time developing it.
A thesis is an assertion about a work
or subject that you have undertaken to prove to the reader.
As such, it should not be a mere opinion, which ultimately owes
more to your personal taste than to more "objective" critical criteria.
"John Dryden is an excessively dull writer" is not a thesis.
As well, it should not be something so obvious
that it does not require demonstration. "John Dryden's poetry exhibits
all the important elements of Restoration poetry" is not a thesis
because it is too obvious; similarly, "Pope's 'Epistle to a Lady'
shows that women in the eighteenth-century were marginalized" is
not a good thesis because it seeks to demonstrate what any reasonably
well-educated reader already accepts as a given. On the other hand,
a thesis statement can use a self-evident truth as a starting
point. For example, "Alexander Pope's treatment of classical sources
demonstrates his indebtedness to the methods and approaches of John
Dryden" does work as a thesis, because it seeks to demonstrate a
more specific, and somewhat more arguable point. Similarly, "Alexander
Pope, in his 'Epistle to a Lady,' uses its thesis that 'most women
have no character at all' to reiterate in a new way a traditional
theme of misogynist literature" is a good thesis, because it deals
in specifics, and makes a point that is not necessarily obvious
to the reader.
Be careful not to produce an essay that is
purely descriptive. Apply the "So what?" test to your thesis:
ask yourself why your conclusions are important to understanding
the work in question. A good example of a purely descriptive (and
hence flawed) essay is one that catalogues features about characters
in a narrative, suggesting, for example, that they all employ artifice
to mask themselves. In and of itself, this is probably not
a thesis: were one to ask "So what?" no good answer would be forthcoming,
because no attempt has been made to explain why this characteristic
is important. Description of this kind is the starting point
for, and foundation of, a proper thesis. To use the following example
again, a thesis might argue that "the characters of this work are
the targets of a broad satire upon the prevalence of artifice in
polite society." Such a thesis goes beyond merely describing a feature
of the text, and explains why the reader should care.
Remember: when writing a thesis statement,
ask yourself the following questions:
(a) Can it be proven?
(b) Does it need to be proven?
(c) Why is this significant to understanding
There is no particular number of secondary
sources that you should employ for a research paper, unless guidelines
have been provided by your instructor. A minimum for a good undergraduate
research paper might be at least one book and two articles consulted.
Similarly, there is no minimum or maximum
to the number of in-text citations (footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical
references) that should appear in this second paper, although it
would seem logical to expect that there should be at least one for
each source consulted. The simple rule of thumb is this: if an idea
or fact comes from a secondary source, it should be acknowledged
as such (see Plagiarism below).
A frequent method employed uses parenthetical
citation of frequently cited works, combined with endnotes. As a
general rule, the first citation of the text that you are discussing
should appear in proper form, with the following note appended:
"Subsequent references to this text will be given parenthetically
where they occur" (assuming, of course, that there are subsequent
references to this particular text). Thereafter, use a simple parenthetical
format, such as that recommended in the MLA Handbook, for
your text (for example, author and page or line number).
Formats for citation can be found in the
Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, or, in much abbreviated
form, in the Handout "Citing Authorities in an English Essay." There
are also a number of online resources that provide summary versions
of the MLA style; the two below are recommended.
for Properly Citing Sources [MLA Style Tips]. This
resource was produced here at the Western Department of English,
and should be your first choice of reference. It is reasonably
comprehensive, and easy to use.
A Reference Guide to Using Internet Resources [Bedford/St.
Martin's] This resource focusses upon citing online material;
its section on MLA style is a useful supplement to the
Department's MLA Style Tips pages (above).
Other style guides are also available through
UWO online resources. These can be found at the following address:
Your essay should include a proper list of
"Works Cited" (or "Consulted"), separate from your notes; generally,
neither notes nor bibliography count towards the word limit set
for essays. Your list of "Works Cited" should include every
text or article that you consulted for your paper, excluding only
such standard reference works as dictionaries (unless it is actually
quoted in your paper), thesauri, and style guides. Please remember
that this includes the text that you are actually writing about:
your instructor needs to know what edition you are using. If every
work that you have listed is actually cited in the paper, entitle
this section"Works Cited"; if not, it is entitled "Works Consulted."
All other considerations aside, of course,
proper and adequate documentation is always required when
another's words or thoughts have been employed in the writing
of your essay. To fail to acknowledge such aid through proper documentation
is to commit plagiarism, a most serious offence. I quote from the
Department of English's "Information for Students":
(the unacknowledged use of another person's work) is one of
the most serious academic offences, since it involves fraud
and misrepresentation. In plagiarizing, one is in effect claiming
another person's words or ideas or data as one's own work,
and thus misrepresenting material subject to academic evaluation.
It is necessary, therefore, that plagiarism carry appropriate
penalties. These are within the discretion of the instructor
in consultation with the Chair of English Undergraduate Studies,
but may include failure of a course or a grade of zero on
an assignment, without the privilege of resubmitting it.
STUDENTS FOUND GUILTY OF A SECOND SERIOUS OFFENCE WILL
BE, AND HAVE BEEN, EXPELLED FROM DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH COURSES.
Students must acknowledge each printed or electronic source
(including study guides such as Cole's Notes) by author,
title, date and place of publication, and page number if:
(a) they quote from it directly; (b) they paraphrase its ideas;
(c) they are conscious of any influence its ideas may have
had on their own work. Every source (including websites) that
students have consulted (whether they refer to it directly
or not) must be included in a bibliography (Works Cited).
Some instructors may require that students provide copies
of material downloaded from the Internet.
It is not always possible to identify the sources of inspiration
of one's own ideas with total accuracy. A reasonable and conscientious
effort is all that is required. However, it is entirely the
student's responsibility to be aware of the nature of plagiarism.
If students have any questions about plagiarism, they should
ask their instructor. If students have any doubts about the
documentation of their own essay, they should see the instructor
before it is handed in. Information about correct forms of
documentation may be found in the MLA HANDBOOK For Writers
of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (New York:
Modern Language Association).
Students found to have submitted the work of another person
as their own work will automatically fail the course. Any
students who know their own work has been used improperly
have a responsibility to inform the Department of that fact;
otherwise they will be considered collaborators.
While the fine line dividing the legitimate
from illegitimate use of someone else's ideas can, on a theoretical
level, sometimes seem difficult to define, it is, in practice, really
not too hard to determine when some form of documentation is required
to acknowledge the use of another's work. Some simple but handy
guidelines can be found in the MLA Handbook:
In writing your research
paper . . . you should document everything that you borrow -
not only direct quotations and paraphrases but also information
and ideas. Of course, common sense as well as ethics should
determine what you document. For example, you rarely need to
give sources for familiar proverbs ("You can't judge a
book by its cover"), well-known quotations ("We shall
overcome"), or common knowledge ("George Washington
was the first president of the United States"). But you
must indicate the source of any appropriated material that readers
might otherwise mistake for your own. If you have any doubt
about whether or not you are committing plagiarism, cite your
source or sources.
Joseph Gibaldi, MLA
Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 5th ed. (New
York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1999) 33.
Ultimately, the final responsibility for
what you submit lies with you; at the same time, do not hesitate
to ask if you are unsure whether or not documentation and proper
citation may be required in any particular case.
Use secondary sources to support, rather
than carry or prove, your argument: remember that you are trying
to produce original insights into a work, rather than merely summarize
what others have thought or said. For this reason, it is often the
best strategy to define a rudimentary thesis before you begin
to look at secondary sources; this will help ensure that you are
not merely regurgitating the ideas of others.
Do not cite secondary works merely to inflate
the number of references in your paper: cite the opinions of others
only when, and where, they are relevant to your own argument. There
is no minimum or maximum number of footnotes or endnotes required
for these papers: use them only when they are useful, interesting,
Ideas, opinions, and information found in
secondary sources may be used in a number of different ways:
1) Most obviously, secondary sources
can provide support for an opinion that you are expressing. Note,
however, that this opinion should not be your actual thesis
(which is to say, you should not be endeavouring to prove something
that someone else has already argued). Rather, use secondary sources
as additional support for an opinion that is a component
of your overall argument.
2) Secondary sources can provide
useful factual information that supports your argument, as, for
example, biographical information about your author, an interesting
point relating to a given genre or literary type, a prevalent
characteristic of the work of your particular author, or a relevant
point of social or political history. Such information can be
found in works of literary criticism, biography, and, of course,
3) It is also useful, on occasion,
to cite opposing views: if you do so, however, make sure that
you adequately refute or respond to them. Citing opposing views
is often a good way to begin your essay: your introduction
can then employ this "erroneous" opinion to launch your
counter-argument (which is usually, of course, your actual thesis).
Note that if you do employ a contrary opinion as a "hook"
in your introduction, you must be sure to return to that opinion,
however briefly, in your conclusion. Note too that any contrary
opinion from a secondary source cited in this manner is not
the main focus of your essay: ultimately, you are still trying
to prove something about the literary text you are discussing,
rather than engaging in debate with another critic.
The place to begin your search for secondary
sources is, of course, the UWO Library computer catalogue. You can
access this catalogue directly, at the following address:
Searches by subject can sometimes be tricky,
but a search by author will generally pull up materials relating
to your subject writer. Keyword searches, however, are often the
most effective means of finding relevant books, as these will search
through all elements in a catalogue entry. It is not a bad idea
to "practice" searches on the computer catalogue: experience
with the search engines will make you much more adept at finding
materials. Do not be afraid to ask a librarian for help with
a search. Librarians are familiar with the catalogue and with the
collection, and will often find materials you might overlook. Moreoever.
they are invariably delighted to assist; I have yet to be bitten
by one. Librarians are an important resource: do not hesitate to
the Library Catalogue
While a search through the library catalogue
will often find a wealth of materials, particularly if one is researching
a well-known subject, work, or author, it should be viewed merely
as the first step in the research process. Conventional searches
for materials relating to works or authors that are more obscure
will often produce little or nothing. What is more, searches that
do result in many "hits" will usually only be scratching
the surface of available material: there is almost always
more to be found. For this reason, treat a search through the catalogue
as merely the first logical step in the process of compiling a list
One of the best sources for works about an
author is the bibliographies and notes found in other works on the
subject. As well, editions of plays, poetry, or novels will frequently
include brief bibliographies of standard critical studies and articles.
Similarly, biographies or briefer biographical entries (as for example
in the Dictionary of Literary Biography; see Research
Resources) usually include lists of secondary or further
Another indispensable source of information
is to be found in the various computer databases available through
the University Library system. For literature, the best of these
is the MLA (Modern Language Association)
Bibliography: this is available on-line. In most cases,
a key-word search for a given author or title will produce a wealth
of entries dating back to the early 1960s.
the MLA Bibliography from a university computer or a proxy
Access the MLA Bibliography through EZProxy
Another worthwhile place to search for secondary
sources is in Proquest's Literature Online (LION) database;
along with electronic texts, this resource allows for literature
searches from its main menu, as well as providing a (somewhat less
useful) list of secondary materials for each author included in
Literature Online from a university computer or a proxy
Literature Online through EZProxy
A similar if more limited resource is the
Arts and Humanities Citation Index, although this
database tends to focus upon reviews and abstracts. And, of course,
a simple subject or key-word search of the computerized library
catalogue will also reveal many of the relevant secondary sources,
as will a visual search of the shelves around the work being studied.
Arts and Humanities Citation Index from a university computer
or a proxy server
and Humanities Citation Index
Other resources for locating secondary sources
(particularly articles) can be found at the following address:
It will be possible, of course, to find essays,
reviews, etc., for many of the authors and texts that we will be
studying, on the Web. While it is entirely permissible to use such
sources (provided, of course, they are properly acknowledged and
cited), be aware that quality-control in cyberspace is virtually
non-existent: while much good information can be found at reputable
sites, there is a great deal of garbage masquerading as scholarship
on the Web. See Web Resources.
Annotated bibliographies for many major authors
have been published: these can be very useful, in that they frequently
summarize the arguments of the individual sources listed. It may
not be possible to find book-length studies, or even articles devoted
to some authors and/or works. This does not mean that nothing has
been written on these subjects. Frequently, such authors or works
will have been dealt with in more general or thematically-organized
books. Good, if largely random, examples of books or collections
that are easy to overlook, but that contain a wealth of information
on some out-of-the-way texts, include:
Doody, Margaret Anne.
The Daring Muse: Augustan Poetry Reconsidered. Cambridge:
stack PR561.D6 1985]
MacLean, Gerald M.,
ed. Culture and Society in the Stuart Restoration: Literature,
Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995.
stack PR437.C85 1995]
Miner, Earl. The
Restoration Mode from Milton to Dryden. Princeton: Princeton
Trickett, Rachel. The
Honest Muse: A Study in Augustan Verse. Oxford: Clarendon,
Remember too that a book or an article on
a subject that relates to your subject can be of assistance even
if it makes no specific reference to your author, or the work that
you are writing about. For example, a good general book on pastoral
is likely to be useful with reference to any "pastoral" text you
may be researching, regardless of whether or not that text is specifically
Should you find yourself having a difficult
time locating materials, try using keyword searches (in the MLA
Bibliography or Weldon computer catalogue) for thematic subjects.
For instance, if the work you are researching is a satire, try entering
"satire" in a search; if it is a pastoral, try "pastoral"; if it
is by a woman writer, try "woman and writer," or variations on these.
Such searches will frequently bring up large selections that you
can, if necessary, shorten by further refining your search. The
Western Libraries have put together a very useful page of reference
materials relating to English studies, at the address I have given
above, which I will here repeat:
It includes a selection of useful books on
the Eighteenth-century in particular, found under the heading "Books."
Listed below are some standard reference materials that you may
wish to consult. If you do use them, be sure to cite them in your
list of "Works Consulted."
Website maintained by:
Website administrator: Mark McDayter
Last updated: November 5, 2005