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Shepaug Valley School Library: Literary Criticism

Serving the teachers, staff, and students of Region 12

Welcome to the Literary Criticism LibGuide!

What is literary criticism?

"Criticism asks what literature is, what it does, and what it is worth."  -Encyclopedia Britannica

Literary criticism analyzes, interprets, and evaluates works of literature. Though you most often find criticism in the form of an essay, in-depth book reviews may also be considered criticism. Criticism may analyze an individual work of literature. It may also examine an author’s body of work.

Why study literary criticism?

Authors present us with work that can have multiple meanings, expecting us to consider thoughtfully - to interpret. Writers and critics build on each others' understanding of a work of literature in a kind of dialog. Good criticism can help us develop a better understanding of a work. In addition, it can help us develop a point of view about a work, whether or not we agree with the opinions of the critic.

When looking at criticism, check for:

  • Credentials of the writer
  • Quality of the sources--journals, books, websites
  • Opinions supported by evidence, relating to:
    • Characterization
    • Voice
    • Style
    • Theme
    • Setting
    • Technical qualities of the writing (artistry, style, use of language)
    • Interpretation
    • Complex ideas and problems
    • Relationship of work to the time, or social, historical, or political trends

When looking for criticism, AVOID:

  • Plot summaries, SparkNotes, Pink Monkey, Cliff's Notes, etc.
  • Casual posts on discussion groups
  • The works of other students
  • Author biography

What's an annotation?

An annotated bibliography is a works cited list that contains information about each item.

The following is a sample  - refer to your assignment for specific requirements.

Information that may be included in the annotation:


What kind of information is being presented?
facts? opinion? ideas? arguments?

Usefulness Relevance to the task - Is the information useful for this assignment?
Currency Is the date of publication important to the topic
Audience Who was this written for?
ex. the general public? a scholar? a child?
Readability Is it too easy? Too difficult? Just right?
What makes this person an authority?
Look for the 2 “e”s – education and experience
Source Format How easy was it to access and use?
Is the same information available elsewhere or in an easier format?
What is the format of the source? (encyclopedia, video, website, interview, etc.)
Where did I find this source? (Internet, NHS library, public library, etc.)
How did I find this source? (search strategy – key words or phrases used)
Reaction What did you like about the source? Was it organized logically?
Were main points presented clearly? Was the text easy to follow, or was it choppy?
What did I find difficult about this source?

Sample annotation:

"Steam Turbine." DisCovering Science. Online ed. Gale, 2003. Discovering Collection.
     Web. 28 Oct. 2009.

I found this article by going into the ICONN database Discovering Collection. I used the keyword steam turbine to get this article. There was no author listed, but the article came from the Discovering Science database, so it should be reliable information. The article gave facts about the steam engine as far back as the 1600s as well as information about how it works. It included an illustration of the first steam engine. The information about how it worked was a bit technical and hard to understand, but the main facts were helpful. I will use this information in the background section of my project.

Print Resources


Find books about specific authors, novels, and literary themes in the SVS Library.

Tips on Using Print Materials

Tips for Finding Literary Criticism in Print Materials

Literary criticism is published in a variety of ways. 

Individual works may consist of books by a single author, articles by various authors compiled by an editor, or reprinted articles previously published in a variety of formats now collected in a single source. Individual works of literary criticism may be found by using the SVS Library catalog (see link above).

Reference works are generally multi-volume sets which contain articles by various authors compliled by an editor, or reprinted articles previously published in a variety of formats (chapter in book, journal article, etc.) now collected in a reference set.  Literature reference sets reside in the Reference section of the library.

Great Writers Inspire

Great Writers Inspire is a project which is making a substantial collection of literary themed learning resources available for global reuse. Thousands of resources are available through the site, including audio and video lectures and short talks, downloadable electronic texts and ebooks, and background contextual resources.

Complete Guide to Annotations

A Note About Databases

Listed below are three databases that focus on literature.

To access this database from outside the Shepaug campus, a username and password are required. Please check your google drive for the shared folder, "SVS Library Resources for Staff and Students" for required information.

Literature Resource Center

Bloom's Literary Reference

Salem Literature Library