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UMW Libraries
Simpson Library | Special Collections

FSEM 100Q6: Shakespeare and Popular Culture: How to find things

The research process

I recommend that you follow these steps:


Step 1: Read the assignment description

  • Dr. Mathur has written a detailed description of the requirements for this assignment. Read it carefully and make sure you understand what's expected of you.


Step 2: Find a topic

  • Throughout the semester, topics might come up in class discussions or class readings. Look back through your class notes to remind yourself what your class has talked about.
  • Go look for topics! Google and Wikipedia are useful at this early stage. You can also look for topics in reference books on the first floor of Simpson Library, or in the book Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture on the third floor of the library:


Step 3: Find sources

  • Search in Quest and/or the databases recommended below.
  • Here are some suggestions for what to type in search boxes:
    • [the title of a modern work] criticism
    • [the title of a Shakespeare play] criticism
    • [the title of a modern work] [the title of a Shakespeare play]
    • [the title of a modern work] [a theme that you want to analyze]
    • [the title of a Shakespeare play] [a theme that you want to analyze]
  • Remember that you're looking for works of scholarly analysis, not popular analysis.
  • Control your expectations. For some modern works, no scholarly analysis exists, especially if the work isn't well-known, or if it just came out recently. That's okay! If you want to write about a particular modern work, and no scholarly analysis of that work exists, you can still write about that work. Just be sure to focus on a particular theme in that work. Even if you can't find scholarly analysis of a particular modern work, you can still find scholarly analysis of a particular theme in Shakespeare -- and then you can write about how that theme connects the modern work to Shakespeare.


Step 4: Read!

  • Before this point, you've probably only been skimming sources. Now that you've identified the best sources, read them closely and carefully.
    • Read your primary sources carefully. Take notes as you read. If you're using a film or TV show as a primary source, watch it carefully, and pause it to take notes.
    • Read your secondary sources carefully. Take notes on the authors' arguments. What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? Why? What sources do they cite, and can you use any of the cited sources yourself?
  • As you read, you might come across clues that you can follow, such as new words or concepts or citations to other sources. Follow these clues! Go back and forth, repeatedly, between reading (Step 4) and using what you read to find more sources (Step 3).


Step 5: Write your essay and cite your sources


Use Quest to search the library's physical collection and the contents of most of the library's electronic databases.

Quest Logo
Search articles, books, and more...


Background information

The Wikipedia logo

"Background information" means short overviews or summaries of a topic. It's also called "tertiary sources". Wikipedia is an example of a source that provides background information. You can also find background information in Simpson Library, especially in the Reference section on the first floor.

Background information is really useful. It's meant to be used when you're first starting your research. It helps you find a topic and learn basic information about that topic. However, do not cite background information. The reason why you shouldn't cite it is that it is not original. It merely repeats and summarizes what other people have said. It's better to get the information straight from the original source.

I recommend a 128-volume encyclopedia called Shakespearean Criticism, which you'll find in the Reference section on the first floor of Simpson Library. To use this encyclopedia, start with the indexes in the last volume (volume 128). Use the Topic Index to find background information about particular themes in Shakespeare, such as "Death" or "Gender Identity" or "Irony."


You can use Quest to search many databases simultaneously. However, you may find results that have nothing to do with English literature or literary analysis. So, I recommend searching the English databases one-at-a-time. Here are two English databases to try:

Books in the library

Cartoon art of a book

For the final essay, Dr. Mather wants you to find "articles (both in print journals and online) and/or book chapters(emphasis added).

I recommend that you look for books that are collections of essays -- that is, each chapter is its own essay, with its own title and author. When you cite an essay that you found in a collection, be sure to put the essay's author and title at the beginning of the citation, before the title of the collection that you found it in.

More than half of our books are e-books. The rest are on the shelves in Simpson Library. To find books in the library, use Quest, and write down the call numbers. Use the call numbers to find those books on the shelves. Here's an explanation of how our call numbers work.

You can check out as many books as you want, and keep each book for five weeks. You can also renew books online to keep them longer.


Reference Librarian

Peter Catlin's picture
Peter Catlin

Other guides

Advice and recommendations for FSEMs in general, and for English research.

The Citing Resources guide gives you examples of perfectly-formatted citations. Zotero is a free app that keeps track of the sources you've found, and generates citations without any typing.