When conducting research for your assignments, you need to know how to research and what resources to look at to find relevant information. This is true of all fields, including English.
The first thing you may do when starting your research of a subject is ask yourself, "Where do I go to find outside sources for my essay?" Your first instinct might be to search the Internet, but you need to know a few things about it and its suitability for research:
Many students make the mistake of using Wikipedia, but this is a very poor choice to go to for research or to find outside sources to use in your essays. Anyone can post on Wikipedia and the information is not screened for accuracy or fact-checked. Anyone can edit existing articles, and add to them after they have been posted, which of course can lead to numerous inaccuracies. Finally, Wikipedia is a "wannabe" encyclopedia, and encyclopedias are not used in research because they are secondary sources, and not primary sources for information. In research, primary sources are used because they are either by a person directly involved in an event, who created a literary work, or who was otherwise directly involved in the subject. Secondary sources have only an indirect involvement with your subject, or no involvement at all, and merely relate an account of the subject. When doing research, avoid using the internet, especially Wikipedia, to find sources.
When performing research for English assignments, you will want to look for the literary work you are discussing, and literary criticism discussing it. Your college or university library will provide the sources you need, and its website features article databases and a catalog that will help you find more sources to help you with your assignments. Some examples of article databases your library may have are:
Academic Search Premier
Academic Search Complete
MLA International Bibliography
If you are also looking for a thesis or dissertation on your subject to use in your research, ProQuest carries theses and dissertations in English and other subjects, along with articles. Some colleges and universities also make their theses and dissertations available through open access; one example of this is Marshall University's Marshall Digital Scholar.
You can always find print sources through the library catalog Write down their call numbers, authors, and titles so that you can track them down and obtain them for your use. Your college or university library's website may also use Summon, a search engine that is similar to Google but is used by libraries instead of just being on the internet. When a person searches a library catalog using Summon, it comes up with all the resources the library has on a subject, including journal, magazine, and newspaper articles from its databases, theses and dissertations published by its students, and ebooks published by scholars on different subjects. He or she can select the needed materials from this list. Fairmont State University Library is among many that use Summon. Next time you are at the library, ask a librarian if its website has it. If it does, take advantage of it. Your assignments will benefit greatly.
If you find materials for your research that are unavailable at your library, use Interlibrary Loan (ILL) to obtain them. College and university libraries often have an Interlibrary Loan Librarian who arranges for library items to be borrowed from other libraries so that their users can use them. Visit the Interlibrary Loan Librarian, or the circulation desk, to obtain your materials if your library does not carry them.
If you are looking for information on methods of research, the Purdue OWL's Conducting Research section provides guides on how to conduct it, and a special section on archival research if you need to carry out research at an archive. If you are an English graduate student, your program may require you to take a course in the methods and materials of research. Even if it is optional, take it. You will learn how to conduct research in English, and about the different materials and methods available to help you perform it successfully.
Finally, as you engage in research in English, remember that conducting good research and following ethical practices as you complete it, are important in laying down the foundations of good scholarship. Possessing good research skills and knowing where to look and what resources are available to you as you conduct it, will help you to succeed in college and beyond.