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ENGL 357: Studies in Canadian Literature since 1920

This guide has been designed as a starting point for the research you will do to complete your research assignments for ENGL 357. 

If you need help, please contact Ivana Niseteo, Liaison Librarian for English, French, French Programs (FASS), Humanities, Linguistics, and World Literature at 778.782.6838 or or Ask a librarian.

Background Information

Sometimes you will need to learn more about your topic before you can determine an effective search strategy.  Reference sources can provide you with quick definitions of terms, summaries of concepts or people/events, and contextual information.  These sources can include encyclopedias, directories, biographical dictionaries, chronologies or handbooks.  SFU Library provides access to many excellent reference sources, some of which are available online.

General Reference

Oxford Reference Online
Online versions of 100 general reference works plus material in language, science and medicine, humanities and social sciences, business, and professional areas. 

Encyclopedia Britannica
An all-purpose online encyclopedia, including an online atlas, dictionary, and select journal articles.

Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary is the accepted authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over half a million words, both present and past.


The Canadian who's who : a handbook of Canadian biography of living characters [print]
Published annually, this resource includes thousands of biographies of persons who are of current national interest in Canada.
**Note** Many of the past editions are available electronically.


Gale Literary Sources
Aggregates several literary databases for biographical and critical essays about the worlds most influential literary figures; literary commentary (popular and scholarly) from 1400 present; biographical information about children's and young adult authors and illustrators. 

Concise Oxford dictionary of literary terms [print or online]
You can also try searching the catalogue for subject specific dictionaries and encyclopedias by including the words encyclopedia OR dictionary OR handbook OR companion OR manual in your KEYWORD search

Here are a few suggestions for background information on literary terms and theories:

  • The John Hopkins guide to literary theory and criticism [print]
  • Encyclopedia of contemporary literary theory : approaches, scholars, terms [online]
  • Literary theory : the basics [print or online]
  • Literary theory : an introduction : anniversary edition [print or online]
  • Key concepts in literary theory [print or online]
  • Literary theory and criticism: an Oxford guide [print]

Book Reviews

When studying recently published works, it can be difficult to find much literary criticism published about that work until many years after publication.  Book reviews, while not necessarily scholarly or very lengthy, can still offer some valuable insight in the themes, issues and reception of a work.  There are many places to find book reviews, including:

  • Print Indexes
  • Individual book review journals, in print or online (a great one for Canadian content is Quill & Quire)
  • SFU journal databases (indexes both popular book review magazines, as well as reviews appearing in scholarly journals)
  • FastSearch (access to many reviews published in newspapers, as well as other magazines and journals)
  • Internet Search (Be critical!  Search known reviewing sites, such as the New York Review of Books, rather than personal interest sites)

Consult Finding Book Reviews and Writing Book Reviews for tips on how to find book reviews in the sources mentioned above.

Finding Books and Journal Articles

Before searching Fast Search, the library catalogue or databases, think about your topic. Break down your topic into concepts or keywords. Think of synonyms for each keyword or concept. Keep your mind open to new or alternative words that describe your topic. Create search strings that can either broaden (using OR) or narrow (using AND) your topic.

Combining terms

The simple terms and and or allow you to combine terms to broaden or narrow your searches.

  • Broaden: combining with or requires ANY term to be found in each search result (use this for finding synonyms), e.g."East Indian OR South Asian"
  • Narrow: combining with and requires ALL terms to be found in each search result (use this for finding two or more concepts in the same source), e.g."british AND asian AND diaspora"
  • Remember your three steps: 1) Do a keyword search 2) Select a book from the list that appears to meet your needs 3) Use the subject headings for that books to find similar materials.
  • Subject headings are terms that have been assigned to each book. They are extremely useful for locating books on the same subject regardless of the terminology used by the author. Using subject headings in your search can lead to more accurate results but it's almost always easier to start with keyword searching first.

Research Tools


Use the Library Catalogue to find books owned by SFU Library. Try using Advanced keyword searching.  Click here for searching tips and guidance on using the library catalogue. If you are still having trouble finding relevant results Ask a Librarian for help!

Article Indexes & Databases

Databases will provide you with the ability to search for articles published in both print and electronic journals.  This is important because some significant content may not be available in digital form.  Every database is slightly different, you improve as a researcher each time you go outside of your safety zone. For example you may want to try databases in other subjects. Look at the databases by subject area in the Journal articles and databases and see if there might be something that is helpful for your paper.  If you are researching the historical or social context of a particular event or group of people, you may wish to explore the Sociology, History, and Political Science databases, among others.

Interdisciplinary databases, such as Academic Search Premier, Project Muse, and JSTOR will also allow you to see how a topic has been treated across the disciplines.

Tip: JSTOR has a 2-5 year embargo on its journals. Note that this database defaults to a basic search. There is also an advanced search option tab, I would suggest using this.  Consider using the near operator to return more relevant results.  For example:  Near10 will search for key terms that appear within 10 words of each other.

Tip:  Check for email, and search history options in each database.

Also remember not to limit yourself to only full-text databases, most of the databases at SFU will give you the option to find the article either in print in the Library or in another electronic database. Click on Get@SFU to find digital copies of articles, if available at SFU.  This link will also provide you with information about SFU's print holdings for the journal where the article appears.  

Tip:  Please note that if an article is not available at SFU you can get it through Inter-library Loans. This service is quick.

Hints and Tips

  • Start early -- good research takes TIME!
  • Be prepared to spend a lot of time reading.
  • Identify what you know already, and what questions still need to be answered.  Use reference sources, such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks and companions to fill in the gaps!
  • Break your search into parts – look for different articles to address different aspects of your topic.
  • Brainstorm possible synonyms and related terms to ensure a wide range of results.
  • Use commands that the computer can understand for more efficient searching (AND/OR/* The asterisk/"quotation marks").
  • Use the results of your searches to create new and better searches - pay special attention to the subject headings to improve relevance.
  • Don't forget: you can always Ask a Librarian for help.