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Theatre History, Theory & Criticism (2024): Research Tips

A guide to research for students in theatre classes, created by Librarian Maryke Barber

Maryke's 4 Tips

1. To find a play, do a keyword search – NOT a title search.

Plays are often published in collections (sample title: “25 best plays of 2010”) and if you do a title search, you may not find them.  A key word search for the title of a play will find it, even if the play title is only listed in the table of contents.

2. Library catalogs use specific spelling and terminology:

  • When searching in a library catalog (including Worldcat) always use theater .(not theatre)

Theater = performance, Drama = literature. When searching for information about a play, don’t forget to do a search using Drama, which will yield different but equally interesting results.

3. Use brainstorming to help you develop search words.

There are many possible search words for finding information about a play.

  • Who wrote it? (Sophocles)
  • Who performed it? (Greek actors)
  • Who wrote about it? (Aristotle)
  •  What genre is the play a part of? (Greek tragedy, Greek drama)
  •  When was it written? (5th Century BC).
  • What other terms are relevant? (mythology, incest)
  • Etc….

And don't forget the suggested subject words list :)

4. If one search word yields bad results, change words.

Example: if you don’t get useful results with a search for “avant-garde theatre”, try searching “experimental theatre” instead. 

Database Search Help

Start with keyword search, then adjust your search if you get too many/not enough results.


1. Find a relevant result, and follow the linked subject term to find more materials on exactly that topic. 1. Try using different search terms: substitute women for female, drama for theater, etc. Different search terms can be words that are related to your subject, or words that are exact synonyms.
2. Get specific: add more information, example theater and france  and 16th century 2. Try using broader search terms: substitute psychology for alienation, or production for lighting.
3. Try a different place to look: our librarians can help you choose which databases are most appropriate for your research, and which search terms will get the best results.


  • Use the "Modify Search" button to limit by material type, language, etc.
  • Use the *  (asterisk) to truncate your search terms, to search several terms at once.
                               Example:  theat* =  "theater"+ "theatre"+ "theaters" + "theatrical", etc.

Note that author search means works by a person, and subject search means works about a person.





Choosing and Narrowing a Research Topic & Question

Need to work on your research question? This videos will help you get started: