Skip to Main Content

Finding Information: Citation Searching

Introduction to Citation Searching

Sometimes, searching for information is like being a detective. You find one clue in an article, which leads you to another article, which leads you to more articles. The phrase ‘citation searching’ refers to a technique that involves finding resources (such as books or articles) that have been cited in publications that are of interest to you. The process can help you find information related to your topic, as well as identify key authors to look out for. This is especially useful for scoping searches as well as literature reviews.

The technique can be utilized in both forward and backward directions during the search process, as explained in more detail below. Additionally, this section covers the methods to identify related texts and evaluate journal metrics.

Citation Searching

In literature searching, backward chaining refers to the process of starting with a relevant article or reference and then tracing backwards to find earlier publications and sources that contributed to the current knowledge on a specific topic.

In this example, imagine that you have found a relevant article from 2017. You could go to the reference list at the end of that article and see all the related articles and books that the author used to help them. You could scan through the titles of those articles and/or books, and assess if there is anything that is relevant for you as well.

Need a little more help? Watch this video [3.43] to see backwards and forward chaining in action. 

In literature searching, forward chaining involves starting with existing knowledge or foundational sources and then progressively moving forward to identify more recent publications and sources that build upon the existing knowledge in a particular field or topic.

Similar in principle to ‘backward chaining’, most online article databases direct you towards articles that have cited the article you are looking at.

Want to give forward training a go? Navigate to Google Scholar and type in the name of an article. Find the article in your results and click the "Cited By" button; Google Scholar will give you a list of all the sources which have cited your original article! 

Need a little more help? Watch this video [3.43] to see backwards and forward chaining in action. 

Citation metrics

When you are finding articles in databases, you may spot something that says ‘cited by’ or ‘citations’, followed by a number. These are ‘citation metrics’ and are shown to help you assess the number of times a work has been cited (referred to) by other authors. This is useful because the metric (the number) gives you an indication of how ‘well-used’ that article is, but it might also link you to newer and potentially relevant articles that you could use.

Alternative Metrics

There are other ways to evaluate the impact that an article has had in addition to using citation metrics. Databases and journals now also track things like social media use (Tweets, Likes, etc.), reportage by mainstream media, and when a piece of research is used as evidence in government policy documents. These are called ‘alternative metrics’ or altmetrics for short. These are often provided by third-party companies and appear as colourful eye-catching images (infographics).

Here is an example of what a ‘rosette’ infographic from the company looks like: 

As you can see, quite a few people are sharing this article on social media and talking about it in their blogs. The article has also been used in online news articles. It provides a snapshot of how much impact the article has generated. This data helps you assess how well-used an article is, which, in turn, suggests how impactful it might be. 

Further Reading