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Universiteitsbibliotheek – LibGuides

Search Advice English Language and Literature: Find out more

Rules of thumb in using sources

  1. Peer review: controle door wetenschappersUse books written by scholars and scientists (is often mentioned in the book), preferably published by scientific publishers
  2. Choose journal articles from peer reviewed journals (is mentioned in the  journal) over those in non-peer reviewed journals.

If you use other sources, it is extra important to check the scholarly level yourself. Of course, your source needs to be meaningful and relevant, above all.

Academic Writing

Searching for literature is not a goal in itself. You will probably use it when writing an essay. The Schrijfwijzer voor Moderne Talen (in Dutch) is an good guide on academic writing. The Chicago Manual of Style is another useful source.

Cartoon over schrijven

Search strategy: what, where, how?

Your search strategy defines what you search, where you search and how you perform your search. In the course of your search process you take many decisions that affect the quality of search results and the time needed to get those results.

The main decisions in your search strategy relate to:

  1. What: Think through in advance what information you really need: subject, type of information (analysis, news, statistics, opinion, overview etc.), level and recency. The exact terms you are going to use in your search are of crucial importance.
  2. Where: What you are looking for determines where you should go to find it: choose your databases carefully, there is not one search engine or database that has it all. The library gives access to search engines for each discipline.
  3. How: There are various methods of searching. The systematic/bibliographic method (using search terms in scholarly databases) and the snow ball method (finding new information related to what you already have) are the most important. The exact application of these methods depends on the options available in the database or search engine.

The special LibGuide search strategy has more on setting up successful search strategies.
See also the special  Libguide on Evaluating sources

Important search engines for English

  • Starting a new subject? Use an encyclopedia or Wikipedia  to find basic information and collect keywords.
  • Scholarly publications can be found using bibliographies, for instance the MLA and LLBA.
  • Primary texts, mainly the older ones, can be found in text collections like EEBO, ECCO or with Google.

Or check the complete list of search engines on English language and culture.

MLA International Bibliography

The MLA International Bibliography contains descriptions of journal articles, essays and books on literature, language and linguistics.

You can perform a basic search, limit your results to for instance publication year and source type or go to 'similar results'.

Not all titles are available in the University Library. Use the UBU link to check for availability.

nieuwe UBUlink MLA

For a quick search, limit your results to (peer reviewed) journal articles. These are more often available in Utrecht than books.

The MLA has several useful options, such as exporting references to Refworks or citing an article using a specific citation style.

Google Scholar: fast and with full text search

Google Scholar is a large search engine for scholarly publications. It searches primarily journal articles and, contrary to almost all other search engines, searches the full text. From Google Books the data of a large number of scientific books are included in Google Scholar. Also in this respect Google Scholar differs from classical scientific search engines such as Scopus or Web of Science.

Google Scholar's special features listed:

  • you search articles as well as (a selection of) books
  • your search is full text, so you will also find sources in which your search terms are only touched upon
  • Google Scholar does not tell you what publications are included and what publications are not: you will have to find out by trial and error
  • the journal selection is less strict than in Web of Science or Scopus: as a result you will also find non-peer reviewed material
  • the order of results is also based on the number of received citations: that is why more recent publications are harder to find; always use the menu to filter on recent years!
  • if you want to have links to Refworks you must choose this as your Bibliography Manager in the preferences
  • only if you access Google Scholar via the Utrecht University Library website you will be shown the UBUlink next to the titles

In the special Google Scholar LibGuide UBU LibGuide Google Scholar you will find all you want to know about successfully using this remarkable search engine

Anytime, anywhere?

At Utrecht University, for English language and literature:

  • 95% of the journals are available online.
  • 30% of the recently published books are available online.

which means they are available anytime, anywhere.

Open Access?

Open Access logo

Open Access means direct and free online access to scholarly research. 

Authors put their articles on their web page or in a free accessible journal.

Unfortunately, just a fraction of research in Humanities is available in Open Access. For access to articles you are often confined to the journals subscribed to by the library.

Books: limited availability

English language and literature is studied worldwide, making the amount of research published very high. The library can only acquire a small portion of these publications. This means you will often fail to find a specific book in the library.

We try in all possible ways to make sure that the books our patrons need are avaible.

Matej Kren's 'Idiom', Book Tower in Prague Municipal Library

If you can't find a book in our library, you can send a request to the subject specialist. For instance when a book is essential for your master thesis or when you suspect that other students of researchers will also be interested.

When the book is as an ebook, we can provide it to you very quickly.



A lot of journals

The number of journals on English language and literary is very high, from well-known peer reviewed journals to local magazines.

Using MLA International Bibliography you can search the contents of more than 400 journals for the English language and literature only! And that for a specialism actually more focused on books.

The good news is: most quality journals on this specialism are available in Utrecht.