Smith College English Majors Research Skills

What Should English Majors Know?

By the time of their graduation all majors in English language and literature should understand how literary scholars conduct research and how they then communicate the results of their work to colleagues. One way of describing this process is “information literacy” – i.e., the ability to conceptualize what literary information is needed combined with the skills necessary to locate, evaluate, and use this information effectively and ethically. (please refer to the final section of this page).

Writing Intensive Classes

Students who have taken writing intensive classes should already have learned at least the following skills:

  • To identify the kind of information -- biographical, historical, literary -- they need, and to know where to find it. In other words, they should be familiar with various electronic resources, particularly the MLA Bibliography, and some reference books. They should also be aware that web search engines are often inadequate for scholarly research.
  • To be able to evaluate the reliability of a source. Who wrote it? When? Who published it?
  • To know how and when to acknowledge and cite their sources in MLA format.

Beginning English majors

Students should build upon and expand these skills:

Seminars

Advanced students should be able to:

  • Document their sources consistently, in correct MLA format.
  • Use conflicting interpretations as part of a nuanced and substantive argument of their own.
  • Identify important articles that have been part of ongoing discussions of a text or group of texts.

In Which Classes Should Students Learn These Skills, and How Will They be Assessed?

Some lower-level English courses, for example ENG 170 and ENG 199, entail literary research, often including visits to the library and meetings with Reference Librarians. Some upper-level English courses require research, making use of the sources and skills outlined above.

Ethical Issues

Using someone else's words, ideas, or arguments without acknowledgment is plagiarism. This is a serious violation of the College's Honor Code. Students should learn to distinguish between "received knowledge" and original work, between ideas that have often been repeated and ideas that are new. They must always identify and acknowledge their sources for everything except "received knowledge," such as dates and facts found in many encyclopedias and dictionaries.

March 20, 2013