Western Libraries

Writer's Papers and Literary Records in Archives

Utilizing and accessing literary manuscripts and author's papers in Archives and Special Collections

Welcome! This guide is designed as an introduction to literary archives including writer's papers, manuscripts and other records created by authors. Literary archives and writer's papers are rich with primary source materials that can reveal valuable insights about the creative process and biographical details of the author. Literary archives also provide windows into the writing process, the writer's life and social networks, and can answer important contextual questions such as: 

  • Where did an author find their ideas? What influences came to bear on a writer's works? To what extent did an author's personal life interplay with their works?
  • How does the final published version differ from the draft and manuscript stages of the work and what does this reveal about the creative process?
  • What do the physical qualities of the manuscript reveal about an author's work?
  • How do the characters, plot and story change and evolve over the development of the work?

Introductory Terms

What is a "literary archives"? Literary archives refers to a collection of literary works created by writers, encompassing a wide variety of formats including author manuscripts, drafts, letters, diaries, photographs, audio-visual material, e-records, publishing contracts, financial records and other personal papers. Sometimes literary archives include objects that belonged to writers such as typewriters, pens and locks of hair!  Literary archives can also refer to the physical repository of such materials and can include groups of records in local archives or significant international collections in universities, national repositories and museums. 

What is included in the term "literary manuscript"? The life cycle of a literary work encompasses many stages including the avant-texte stage, the textualization stage and the post-text stage (for an explanation of these terms, see the Articles & Definitions tab). Documents relating to all phases of creation of a literary work can be considered manuscript materials. The term literary manuscript commonly refers to unpublished materials such as writer's drafts or proofs, created in the early stages of the writing process. Examples of literary manuscript materials include: notes, drawings, drafts, reworkings, or author and editor proofs. For a detailed description of the phases of writing and related documents visit the Group for Literary Archives and Manuscripts (GLAM).

What is meant by the term "writer's papers"? In addition to manuscript material, a variety of other records pertaining to authors are considered valuable primary source material for research and study. These frequently include a writer's correspondence, diaries, notebooks and journals, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, photographs, financial papers and in modern settings, e-records.

Explore these related LibGuides: The following list of Research Guides at Western University encompass topics related to the study of writer's papers and literary archives.

Subject and Topic Guides 

Primary Source Literacy

Medieval Studies

Comparative Literature