MLA Bibliography and LION Research Database Instruction

        To write good scholarly prose about literature, you must know how to find and select relevant secondary scholarship to help you develop support for your own thesis.  This task is "secondary" to your composing process, though.  Remember that both papers for English 211 must be grounded in an original insight about your primary source, and you must not succumb to the temptation to pile up and string together the thoughts of secondary sources, no matter how good their scholarship.  Good writing about literature achieves a balance between insightful writing about the primary source and contact with secondary sources that help your own thesis to work.  Good writing about literature always begins with a thorough knowledge of the primary source and the discovery of a non-obvious pattern of evidence related to it that helps readers understand it better.

        However, past experience has taught me that, unless I require it, students tend to postpone learning how to use the MLA Bibliography and LION.  They rely instead on the book-length sources they can find in OLLI, and on the Internet, a  perilous choice.  Once you understand how these two databases are organized and how to use their resources as a scholar would, you can add enormous value to your papers while avoiding the sometimes outdated books and usually unscholarly Internet sites.

        You do not have to make this appointment for direct instruction if you can show me a printed example of a well-focused search in either database, and explain how your search vocabulary and strategies maximize correct hits on all available sources closely relevant to your topic and minimize false or marginally relevant sources on your topic.  Knowing how to avoid missing useful sources will keep you from deciding too soon that the library's resources cannot help your thesis.  Knowing how to restrict your search to a manageable number of highly relevant hits will help focus your mind on what your own thesis is trying to prove.  The sample search need not be related to this course's midterm paper, and you should avoid, at all costs, looking for articles "on your thesis" so as to avoid the "deadly embrace." 

        English majors who complete this research training will have made learned skills essential to completing the Computing Proficiency in the Major requirement.  Non-English-majors who have declared another major may benefit from it, as well.  Please see me if you believe learning how to operate these research tools will be an onerous burden for you.