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Once you have located selected items from your reading list, catalogue search or other means, you need to consider which you will look at more closely. Again, this process is partly one of elimination; efficient research is as much about deciding what not to read. Looking at the text in front of you, you need to assess the text's relevance for you.

  • For books, look at the contents page and index (if there is one) to see how relevant it will be.
  • For journal articles, read the abstract first if there is one. If this looks promising, read the introduction and conclusion sections.
  • Look at the references in books and articles. You will probably see the same names appearing in different places, in which case this author may be worth following up.

Try and be aware of the date of the book you are reading. With a primary text this will indicate the edition of the work you are reading; with secondary criticism this may be a good indicator of the style of criticism of a particular period. For example, what critics were writing about Edith Wharton in 1930 may be interestingly different than critics writing in 1990. You may find this difference a useful theme for an essay. Reading primary texts slowly and thoughtfully is important for allowing your thoughts to gradually emerge, but read secondary criticism more quickly to get a feel for the range of opinions, some of which you might choose to explore in your work. 

Texts outside the library

Academic texts bought or subscribed to by the University libraries undergo a process of peer review before they are published, and are therefore of suitable quality for your purposes. If you are using materials sourced from outside the library, you will need to be more cautious and evaluate them thoroughly to ensure that they are of an appropriate standard. You could ask:

  • Who authored the information?
  • What expertise does the writer have to comment? What evidence is used? Are there citations in the piece?
  • What genre is the document: journalism, academic paper, blog, polemic?
  • Is the site/document/report funded by an institution?
  • What argument is being made?
  • When was the text produced?
  • Why did this information emerge at this point in history?
  • Who is the audience for this information?
  • What is not being discussed and what are the political consequences of that absence?

From Brabazon, T., 2006. 'The Google Effect: Googling, Blogging, Wikis and the Flattening of Expertise'. Libri 56 pp. 157-167. Retrieved from