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What Is Literature Research?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 23, 2024
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Literature research refers to the scholarly, critical study of literature, generally for analysis purposes. It is often done as part of a degree program, such as a degree in English, but some people simply choose to study literature on their own as part of a hobby. Basic literature research may also take place in high school, but most students don't really begin diving into true literary analysis until college. For professors of literature, this type of research will generally continue throughout their careers, as they publish scholarly papers on their topics of choice. Many universities require this of their professors.

The methods for literature research are generally fairly similar across the board. An individual wanting to study a certain aspect of a piece of literature, such as a certain theme, piece of imagery, type of characterization, etc., will generally form a question about this idea. It is necessary that the question be debatable in order to produce a truly interesting, worthwhile paper. Then, the individual will begin examining the research that already exists in this topic from other scholarly researchers.

In most cases, the researcher will make sure to study and respond to all sides of a debatable issue when writing his or her own literature research. Of course, it is entirely possible that no one else has written about one specific idea for one specific piece of literature before; in this case, the researcher will need to find related examples for similar ideas or other similar pieces of literature. It is also common practice for literature researchers to compare a few different works to each other; this can be different works by the same author or by different authors.

The process of literary review, critique, and analysis can be lengthy and challenging. It is necessary in literature research for the researcher to add his or her own ideas in addition to the primary and secondary sources she collects for the research. If the research will eventually be published in a scholarly journal, it will be necessary for the piece to go through a lengthy peer review process as well. In this process, the researcher's colleagues will review the piece and offer critical feedback on it to ensure that the piece is the best it can be. Students completing this type of research that will not be published will not need to go through the peer review process, though some instructors will encourage peer reviews in the classroom to get students in practice of critiquing others' work.

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Discussion Comments
By pleonasm — On Jul 25, 2012

I really enjoyed taking a literature paper when I was at university. If you are planning to take one, I would recommend taking one of local writers. Not only is it wonderful to learn more about your own area, but often they will be able to actually come into the class and talk to you about their work.

Which leads to an interesting question. I knew a girl who was studying the work of a particular author, who lived fairly close to the university and often came in to give talks. The girl was torn between asking the author to clarify particular parts of her books, and not wanting to "contaminate" her research with bias from the author herself.

In the end, I think she decided not to talk to the author, although she was still allowing herself to use quotes from other interviews.

By pastanaga — On Jul 24, 2012

@umbra21 - While I don't disagree with your sentiment, I would argue that the study of literature does have practical applications. For one thing, it is a window into a particular culture, which is always a good thing. If we had more understanding of other cultures we'd have fewer wars.

For another, the study of literature leads to the expansion of thought in other fields. It's all very well to discover new substances in science but if we don't have any idea of the ethics or consequences of using them, they could end up being our downfall. Literature is our collective memory, our way of making sense of the world.

Without understanding that, we have no way to call on the lessons of history.

People who research literature are condensing years of thought about a particular topic and writing it down so that the rest of us can take advantage of that wisdom. Literature research topics might sometimes seem frivolous, and sometimes they even are frivolous, but I would argue that the study of literature is actually very practical.

By umbra21 — On Jul 24, 2012

For a while I thought this kind of work was pointless. I still don't think it's the kind of work I enjoy, but I don't think that I really have the right to tell another person how to spend their time. I remember in school, people would make fun of the arts and humanities students, saying in particular that they would never get a job (although that hasn't seemed to be the case, as most of them ended up working in offices... someone has to, I suppose!).

But we are getting to the point where people need more of a point in their lives than simply getting on. A lot of people are more than comfortable and they simply spend their time becoming more and more wealthy. The pursuit of literature research, like many forms of research, might not often have concrete results that lead to making something you can apply in your own life or use to make money.

But it is the study of ourselves. It is one way to better humanity as a whole so that we do more with ourselves than chase after money.

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