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Quick Tips on Preparing For Research

Before you start:

  • understand the key terms you may be using as well as the general area that interests you;
  • think about ways to narrow your topic, making it as specific as possible (unless you have been given a specific topic to research!);
  • create a thesis statement;
  • list  the main concepts (key words) included in your thesis statement (research question), then based on your readings;
  • find as many synonyms as you can for each main concept. You are now ready to start searching in the library's catalogue and databases.

When you are looking for definitions or if you don’t know much about a specific subject, reference works such as dictionaries and encyclopedias become invaluable because they contain relatively short—and accessible—articles. These articles often lay out the parameters of a subject and can assist you in trying to narrow your topic. Often such articles are accompanied by lists of readings (bibliographies) which allow you to explore your topic further.


The Oxford English Dictionary is  the most comprehensive dictionary of the English language  in part becuase it includes words as they first entered the language and any change in their meanings over time.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of  Literary Terms  provides clear, concise, and often witty definitions of the most troublesome literary terms from abjection to zeugma.

Encyclopedias for English

Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada: This encyclopedia discusses literature in English and French, and also in such other languages as Yiddish, Spanish, Haida and Cree; authors and their work; related literary and social issues; professional institutions that play a role in the lives of Canadian writers; and the major historical and cultural events that have shaped Canada. (print)

Literature Resource Centre: Includes critical essays, work and topic overviews, full-text works, biographies, and more to provide a wealth of information on authors, their works, and literary movements.  Researchers at all levels will find the information they need, with content covering all genres and disciplines, all time periods and all parts of the world. (online)

The Oxford Companion to English Literature: This comprehensive encyclopedia provides coverage of all aspects of English literature - from writers, their works, and the historical and cultural context in which they wrote, to critics, literary theory, and allusions. (print) 

The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature: This encyclopedia provides a comprehensive overview of major American writers and literary works. It is browsable alphabetically and searchable. (online)

The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature: This encyclopedia covers the entire history of literature in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in the major literary languages (Anglo-Saxon, English, Welsh, Scots, Irish, and Latin). It includes substantial accounts of individual authors (e.g., Spenser, Pope, Austen) and detailed histories of particular themes, movements, genres, and institutions, whose impact upon the writing or the reading of literature was significant (e.g., The Stationers' Company, the sonnet, the ‘School of Night,’ or the Sublime). (online)

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature: This award-winning encyclopedia presents a comprehensive collection of entries on children’s literature from all around the world with an emphasis on themes, trends, authors/illustrators, and traditions. (online)


Extra Encyclopedia for English

The Encyclopedia of Rhetoric: This encyclopedia brings together different disciplines including philosophy, literature, literary theory, and cultural studies in the broad study of “the art of persuasion.”