Search Vocabulary

Library databases have their own language for describing things, displayed in the "subjects" that you'll see listed next to citations. Subject headings are a kind of controlled vocabulary, and using them well can transform your search results from random chaos to beautiful relevance.

Research Do's and Don'ts

This page from Literature: A Guide for Graduate Students includes more search strategies and tips on taking advantage of different database features.

Narrow to Scholarly Criticism

Sometimes it can be a challenge to separate the scholarship about a topic from the primary sources.

In HOLLIS (primarily Library Catalog):

In the MLA

  • No extra terms needed! The MLA is an index of scholarship, and primarily literary scholarship.

Describe Your Topic by...



  • Search “lastname, firstname” as an exact phrase. You may need to specify further—compare, for example, “James, Henry” against “James, Henry 1843.”

In HOLLIS Everything and other aggregator databases

  • If you're not sure about how reliably subjects are deployed in a database, it's a good idea to search "lastname, firstname" OR "firstname lastname"


Time Period - Century and Multi-century Literary Periods

Time Period - Decades, Historical Events, etc.