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Romance Languages & Literatures: Developing Your Research

A guide to scholarly resources in the field of Romance Languages and Literatures

Steps in the Research Process



What kinds of topics are best?


The best topics are those that originate out of your own reading of a work of literature, but here are some common approaches to consider:


  • A discussion of a work's characters: are they realistic, symbolic, historically-based?
  • A comparison/contrast of the choices different authors or characters make in a work
  • A reading of a work based on an outside philosophical perspective (Ex. how would a Freudian read Camus?)
  • An analysis of a specific image occurring in several works (Ex. the use of moon imagery in certain plays, poems, novels)
  • A "deconstruction" of a particular work (Ex. unfolding underlying gender issues in George Sand’s Indiana)
  • A reading from a political perspective (Ex. how would a Marxist read Cervante’s Don Quixote?)
  • A study of the social, political, or economic context in which a work was written — how does the context influence the work?


How do I start research?


  • Reference Tools

      Once you have decided on an interesting topic and work (or works), the best place to start is with reference tools. They offer a broad overview of a topic and provide basic biographical data on authors, brief summaries of works, possibly some rudimentary analyses, and even bibliographies of sources related to your topic which can be used for further research.

  • Library books and databases

Reference tools do not, however, offer serious direct scholarship; you will have to use sources found in the library, sources like journal articles and scholarly books, to get information that you can use to build your own scholarship-your literary paper. Consult the library's on-line catalog and the various literature databases. Avoid citing dictionary or encyclopedic sources in your final paper.

How do I use the information I find?

The secondary sources you find are only to be used as an aid. Your thoughts should make up most of the essay. As you develop your thesis, you will bring in the ideas of the scholars to back up what you have already said.

For example, say you are arguing that the theme in the poem El Cid represents a man’s loyalty to family and nation; that's your basic thesis. You give evidence from the poem that allows this reading, and then, at the right place, you might say the following, a paraphrase:

According to Thomas Montgomery, the underlying theme of the poem is that of survival of the individual, the family, the clan, and the nation (433).

Research questions that have no simple answers usually lead to more productive research papers. Topics that are controversial and for which there are various different points of view give you more possibilities for developing your own ideas and analysis from your research.


 Adapted from Owl Purdue Online Writing Lab

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Margaret Burke
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