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Researching Writers and Their Work

For students exploring literary works such as novels, short stories, poems, and plays

What is Literary Criticism?


When you are searching for information that helps you analyze, interpret, and evaluate works of literature -- novels, poems, stories, plays, etc. -- you are seeking a source of information called literary criticism.

Despite its rather negative-sounding name, literary "criticism" is not necessarily negative!  Literary criticism is simply an in-depth critique of an author's work that helps a researcher understand the work's meaning, symbolism and/or origin.

Need more information on literary criticism and writing about literature? Check out these useful titles!

Why Is This So Challenging?

Many research projects assigned at MJC require students to explore current events and controversial issues.  These issues-–things like health care reform, climate change, or obesity--affect most of us and play some role in our lives or the lives of those close to us.  Chances are if someone brings up health care reform or global warming you have an opinion on it. So researching issues like these require us to find outside resources to expand, challenge and reinforce ideas we already have.


When an instructor assigns you to read and write about a literary work, however, you must often start from scratch.  The literary work itself may very well be new to you, and if you don’t have experience writing about literature it is very easy to become intimidated. What exactly is the difference between a plot and a theme?  What does the phrase “historical context” mean? How in the world do I identify the symbolism in this poem? These problems have long plagued student researchers, which is why the MJC Library has plenty of sources to make your research progress as smoothly as possible.

We Have You Covered!

The MJC Library has a lot of great resources to help you as you journey into the world of literary criticism. Using the books, articles and Web pages in this guide you can easily find things like:

  • author biographies
  • plot summaries
  • character descriptions
  • thematic overviews
  • historical, political, and social contexts
  • reviews and criticism of specific works, authors and literary genres