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WRPR 114: Gender and Writing (HC)

Writing Program 114: Gender and Writing (Watson) Fall 2020


This guide is intended to introduce you to searching for scholarly articles using humanities databases. 

If you find yourself needing to broaden your search beyond the databases listed below, you can search the Tripod catalog which provides access to the materials in the databases to which we subscribe as well as our extensive collection of print and other media. 


Popular Articles Versus Scholarly Articles

  Popular Scholarly
Author Staff writer; journalist Expert in the field; known credentials
Audience General public Scholars, researchers
Language Little technical language or subject-specific concepts Uses technical language and subject-specific concepts

Broad topics; shallow coverage; little or no original

research; shorter length 

Narrow topics; in-depth coverage; original research; new

ideas; longer length

Documentation Usually no bibliography Bibliography present
Peer-reviewed? No

Often reviewed by scholars in the field prior to publication and 

improved by their critiques

Finding Articles

The databases listed below work differently than Google or other websites you're used to searching. Here are some things to keep in mind as you go about the research process: 

  • Choose a database(s) thoughtfully -  Even the most targeted search terms will not yield relevant results if the database does not contain materials related to your research topic. It is therefore crucial to spend a little time determining which database(s) is right for you. 
  • Know how the database(s) you've chosen works - Given that every database has its own particular search functionality, a search that may work in one database may not work in another.  That makes it worthwhile to do some preliminary exploration of a database's search options. 

  • Choose your search terms carefully -  Develop search terms that address the major aspects of your research project. Especially when you're starting out, you should try out broad terms so that you retrieve as many relevant materials as possible. This goal can also be achieved by coming up with synonyms for your terms. As your project develops, you will want to use terms that are more narrow in order to retrieve materials that speak to your particular scholarly interests.
While most of the articles in these databases have been peer-reviewed - meaning that they have been vetted by experts in the field - some have not. To retrieve only peer-reviewed articles, you should click on the "peer-reviewed" box in the advanced search screen of the database you have chosen.  

Once you have found a relevant article (s), click the  button to access the full text. If the library does not own the article you are interested in, you can still access it through an Interlibrary Loan (ILL) request. This request can be made through the "Find it" page or you can go directly to the ILL Request Form

Follow this link to access a list of all the English studies databases available through the library. 

Tips for Searching

If you search a catalog or database and receive a large number of results, add a limit or additional keyword in order to retrieve a manageable and relevant number of results to review.  At the same time overly narrow search terms can return too few results.  One way of solving both problems is to use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT). They allow you to define concepts and determine their relationships.  They also give you opportunities to limit or expand searches depending on your needs. 

A search for migrant AND  protection will return items that contain both terms:


immigrant  OR  refugee allows you to put related words together with results that contain either one of the terms or both:


human rights NOT trafficking returns items that talk about humans rights issues but do not mention trafficking:

Phrase searching:

An important strategy to use when searching for phrases ("human rights") or titles:

"Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature"

will search for those words in that order, retrieving the catalog entry for the 1989 essay by Toni Morrison


Truncation and Wildcards:

Most catalogs and databases enable users to search variations of keywords by using truncation (*) or wildcard (e.g., ?, $, !) symbols.

For example, one could search for politic*  to find poltic, politics, political, politicking, and so on.

Wildcard searches are for differences within words: a search for wom?n will return results for woman, women, and womyn.


Nested Searching:

When pairing two or more keywords and connecting them to other concepts, it is important to "nest" the former terms within a larger Boolean search.  (immigrant* OR refugee*) AND  ("european union" OR France OR germany)

Focus Your Search:

Choose where the database is searching.  It may be set automatically for keyword.  You can make the search more precise by looking instead for title words only or for subjects.


Evaluating Secondary Sources

As you conduct your search for secondary material, keep in mind the following questions to help you select high-quality and relevant resources:

  • Evidence - What kind of secondary material do you need to support your argument?

  • Audience - For whom is the resource intended?  Researchers, undergraduates, the general public?

  • Discipline - Is the resource written from within a particular discipline?  For example, is the book or article meant for historians, literary scholars, art historians?  You will want to consider this question once you have found resources, but it is also a useful question to ask about your own argument.  Knowing your own approach will help you to know where to look—in which databases and so on—for secondary literature.

  • Expertise - What is the author's training?  Has the book or article been reviewed by other experts in the field (i.e., has it been peer-reviewed)?

  • Timeliness - When was the book or article published?  Recently published works will reflect current scholarship on a topic.

  • Objectivity - Does the author present a balanced point point of view?  In other words, does the author present competing interpretations fairly or are alternative readings misrepresented in service of the author's agenda?  Does the tone seem objective or overly emotional?

  • Documentation - Does the author adequately cite other literature relevant to his or her argument?  Of what quality are these citations?  (If the author includes quality secondary sources, you can use his or her bibliography to find further resources for your own project.)

See these resources for further information on evaluating secondary literature:

Guide to MLA Citation