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Spanish and Portuguese Language and Literature Research Guide: Search Strategies

An introductory guide to doing research in Spanish and Portuguese language, literature, and cultural studies.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Resources used in literary academic research and used to write literary academic research papers generally fall into one of two categories: primary and secondary sources. The difference between them is the reference point of the source’s creator.

Primary sources are original works contemporary with the issue, development/movement, or period being studied (i.e. romantic poetry).   Please note that primary sources can come in many formats – they can be published or unpublished, a printed text or a text that has been digitized, an artifact, a recording, a painting or an image. In literary studies they are most often texts but sometimes other forms of media, such as film are used.  Primary sources can also be reprinted or issued for publication or made accessible to the public long after their creation. Because of this, primary sources can be found in all sections of the library. They are published in books that are in the circulating stacks. They are manuscripts found in Special Collections, microfilm, in databases, or online.

Primary sources include the literary work(s) being studied and other contemporaneous materials:
An author's entire literary corpus such as novels, short stories, poems, plays, etc.
Contemporaneous literary works
An author's correspondence, autobiographical writing, or private papers.
Contemporaneous nonliterary works, such as histories, chronicles, newspaper accounts, etc.

Secondary Sources are more critical analyses of the topic being studied which are created by a person or persons who has/have the necessary distance in time and involvement from the topic to write a less personal account.  Secondary sources build upon and interpret primary sources, as well as secondary sources created by others. Thus, secondary sources are second-hand accounts because their creators are one-position removed from first-hand accounts.

Secondary Sources include

Literary histories

Search Strategies

A first step to searching for materials on your topic is to talk to experts who can suggest beginning sources to you: your professors and anyone else that they recommend.

There are three useful principals to remember and apply when searching any kind of electronic search tool (a library catalog, a digital library, a database, the internet, etc.)

1. A keyword search in any resource will point you to great initial resources, but you will not find all of the resources you need this way. 

2. It is really important that you follow up on your initial searching by:

a) looking at the complete records to identify subject headings or descriptors that you can use to search further

b) carrying out seed research: go to the initial sources and check the footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies to find further resources.  It is also helpful to walk around the shelves in the library where you find initial print sources, as other related sources will be shelved in this area.

3. Use reference sources to start your research as well.  There are great electronic and print reference tools (dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, and more) that can help you clarify and narrow down your topic and identify great starting resources.

A very helpful place to identify and learn more about different tools to use in keyword searching (including boolean operators, truncation, and subject headings) can be found on the Search Strategies tab of the MCWP 50 & MCWP 125 Research Guide.

Using Citation Software to capture the resources you find through your searches is also very helpful.  Check out the Basic Instructions on how to use Endnote