Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
UCC LibGuides at Union County College
Literature Resource Guide
Use this guide to find critical resources on literature topics.
Finding a Subject for Your Paper
One of the hardest things a student must do is finding a subject for the paper. The subject must be narrow enough that you can cover it in just a few pages, yet broad enough that you can find sufficient resources.
There are many ways to read a work of literature, and depending on how you view the work, you might have different research needs.
If you're having trouble finding a manageable topic, talk to a Reference Librarian. Whatever your topic or interest might be, a Reference Librarian can help you manage the scope of your topic and find resources.
Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources
- Primary sources in literature would include those things written by the author: prose, poetry, fiction, drama, essays, and also personal documents such as diaries, letters, or wills. In addition to the author's own writings, primary sources might also include relevant documents from the author's lifetime written by others.
- Secondary sources in literature interpret, analyze, and comment on other authors' works. Most literary criticisms are considered to be secondary sources. Secondary sources are written in a time after first-hand observation is no longer possible, but they are invaluable in explaining to modern readers the circumstances in which the author wrote and his works have been received.
The best places to find secondary sources are books, reference books, and journal articles. Union County College Libraries contains many books containing literary criticism that can be found through the Library Catalog. Or, you can browse the shelves at for criticism on the topic of your choice. The Gale Literary Criticism books in Reference are especially useful for finding essays by known critics that will enhance your understanding and jump start your literary research paper. Most contemporary secondary sources are copyright protected, and therefore not available for free on the Web.
- Tertiary resources include encyclopedias, bibliographies, textbooks, or indexes. You go to a tertiary source to learn where to go for additional information. An encyclopedia, such as Britannica (in print or online) or Wikipedia, will give an overview of the subject and then list other sources to use. A bibliography is a list of books, articles, and other resources.