I recently encountered this question, which is basically asking for general advice on how to start learning about British Literature on her own (possibly with a goal of improving English skills). As written, it is overly broad and opinion-based (because its lack of constraints would likely make answers too lengthy, and it would be hard to say that one answer was more correct than any other).

There was some discussion in the comments as to how this question could be salvaged.

In general, do we want to accept "how do I start?" type questions? If so, how can this kind of question work well on the site?

2 Answers 2


Personally, I'm not in favour of questions of this type, essentially because the "correct" answer is always going to be intensely personal.

No-one comes to be engaged enought with English literature to ask questions about it without actually having read some of it first. So if we approach a question like this by suggesting some of the more approachable classic texts - Orwell was deservedly mentioned in the question that spawned this - there's a good chance we'll be teaching the asker something they already know.

Even if this isn't the case, tastes and appreciation vary widely. I know someone who delights in Chaucer in the original Middle English but finds Shakespeare to be impenetrable and elitist. I know someone else who loves Shakespeare and other drama with an eye to performance but who prefers to read comic books. It is extremely difficult to help someone with a "way in" to the literary world without knowing something about their tastes and background, and that's too much personal detail for a question.

If we are to accept these questions I would suggest that the only way to do so is in a slightly different light: that rather than look at texts, we look at the appreciation of texts. Recommend that people learn about the basic techniques of literary theory essentially: close reading, analytical frameworks, poetic devices and so on. That might work, but in my opinion it's still far too broad a subject for the format of this site.


I would like to find a way of rephrasing such questions (a) to make them less subjective, (b) so answers can be written that help the OP become more self-reliant. This would be something like the changes I suggested to the question Most important papers on Beowulf or a lit review on Beowulf scholarship, which was reworded to “Approaching Beowulf scholarship - how to begin?”

The question that triggered this meta post may be reworded into something like "How can I find out how to begin studying English literature?" Strictly speaking, this is still asking for advice, just like the current version, but it's more about method rather than a list of tips or resources.

We might even pre-empt many such questions by creating a few Q&As ourselves.

One alternative approach is answering this sort of questions on the Meta site (after properly rewording them, as needed), but his has a serious downside: new users will never think of looking there.

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