Researching a paper in WWO

These notes are aimed at helping new scholars—high school and undergraduate students—get oriented in using digital research tools like Women Writers Online. But others may find them useful as a source of ideas as well.

First, think about the scope of your paper topic and what kind of paper you’re interested in writing. Are you focusing on a specific author or text? Are you writing about a particular theme (like images of violence)? Are you interested in getting a historical perspective on a topic like religious practice?

Exploring authors and texts: If your research is focused on a specific author or text, then the starting point is easy: you can use the WWO table of contents to find the author or text you’re interested in, and pursue your research just as if working with a traditional printed text. However, you can also use the WWP search interface to extend your exploration. One way to do this is by searching for terms related to your research topic within that author’s work. If you’re interested in a single text, this is easy: in the Search pane click on “Advanced”, enter your search term under “Full Text”, and in the “Metadata” search fields, enter the name of the author, or the title of the text that you want to searching within in the spaces provided. (If you want to enter more than one search term, you can simply leave a space between each word or separate them with commas.) Each search term you select will appear in the left hand search pane and can be undone by clicking on the check box to its left. After searching, the results pane will give you a list of the texts in which your search term appears. Click on the title of the text to view it in the full text pane. Each occurance of your search term should now be highlighted in the full text view, which can help you identify particular passages of interest to focus on and study further.

To take this inquiry a step further, you can also use the facets in the leftmost pane to see the profile of search results by genre and by time period. The number next to each genre (e.g. non-fiction, verse, drama, fiction) indicates how many of the texts in the found set falls into each genre category. Similarly, the number next to each century indicates the breakdown of texts by period. Clicking on a facet will expand it to reveal any subcategories, and will also limit the found set to the items in that facet. So for example, if we choose “Advanced search”, and search for the word “numbers” in texts that have the word “Poems” in their title, we get an initial result set of 42 items. Looking at the facets, we can see that all of these items are categorized as “verse”, but in addition three of them are classed as “drama”, one as fiction, and one as non-fiction. We can also see from the timeline a cluster of texts in the found set shortly before and after 1800. You can also get a visual sense of the chronological distribution of items in the found set using the vertical timeline in the center of the window. Clicking on an individual item in that timeline will take us to the specific result for that text.

Exploring themes and topics: Resources like Women Writers Online don’t typically have detailed metadata about topics—or if they do, they may not necessarily have focused on the particular topic you’re interested in. So your initial research strategy is to find the texts that are relevant to your paper by thinking about what kinds of language those texts might use. For example, if you’re interested in themes of violence in women’s drama, you first need to think about how those texts might describe or represent violence. You could start with a series of simple searches for words that might indicate some violence in the text: for instance, “fight”, “sword”, and so forth. You could narrow the search to include only dramatic texts, by clicking on the drama facet in the lefthand pane. In the results display, you can see from the immediate context of the word, how it is used, and what other words tend to accompany it, which may in turn suggest additional words that may be useful for further searching: “sword”, “battle”, “Mars”. Repeating these explorations will give you over time a sense of which texts contain material of interest, and you can then return to these and study them in more detail.