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English (Writing About Literature)

Web Sources


  • Websites are online spaces that host a multitude of content. The collection of content for a website is within the same domain. (In the example below, is the domain).
    • Examples:

What do they contain?

How often are these sources published?

  • Continuously

Found on:

  • The "open web." Search engines "crawl" and "index" items found in the open web, such as webpages, blog posts, infographics, PDFs, and other material that people post to the web. The open web contains materials not behind a paywall (such as when an online journal website asks for payment to show you an article). Databases are technically behind a paywall, because they contain material that is accessed after the library pays a subscription fee.

Constructing a Web Search

Take your topic and think how you will turn it into search terms. If your research question is "What is the historical context of Florida in the time period represented in Their Eyes Were Watching God?" the most essential elements to find are history, Florida, and the book title. It can help to brainstorm alternatives to the words IN your research question, because different words will surface different results in your search.

Search Word Chart Brainstorm

(derived from the question)

historical context Florida "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

early 1900s

1920s and culture




"Zora Neale Hurston"


Note: the quotation marks around some search terms help tell the search engine that you want results with the words stuck together exactly as you have them.

Combining three of my search concepts, a sample Google search is shown below.

Sample Google search using a selection of search words from the brainstorm chart: 1920s and Florida and "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

Google Scholar

Sample result list in Google Scholar with PDF links in far right side of screen (when available)Google Scholar attempts to locate scholarly material. It will show your more results than you actually have paid access to. Items that you can access immediately and for free have a PDF link in the far right area of the page. Like so:


Sample Google Scholar search.

Recommended Web Resources

Special collections & archives are contain material that is managed and sometimes digitized by universities and organizations to ensure they are available for research purposes. For example, a writer may donate their work (their "papers") to an institution after their death, and the institutions then catalog the items in the donation so others can find them. These donations can contain letters to or from the writer in question, handwritten or typed manuscripts created during their process of writing their work, and more. Depending on the currency of your research topic, there may be special collections that can assist you in your project. This is especially useful when your topic can be explored in a historical context.

For example, Zora Neale Hurston is a historical figure in the literary canon. Since her writing occurred before the 1960s, it is likely we might be able to find special collections that contain the historical objects of her work. Below are some links to special collections and archives containing this work.

Many of these kinds of resources can be surfaced with a simple Google search like:

special collections and [insert name of writer or written work]

In addition, many of these items live in educational institutions. You may improve your Google search by entering these search words: 

special collections AND [insert name or writer or written work] AND

Here are some examples of special collections that share the unparalleled work of Ms. Hurston:

Library & Learning Resources, City College of San Francisco
50 Frida Kahlo Way, San Francisco, CA 94112 | 415-452-5541

Staff Intranet