Cited Reference Searching (Or, The Savvy Researcher’s Strategy)

As your scholarly research becomes more narrowly focused, you will no doubt begin to have more and more trouble finding articles related to your topic. While this is wonderful in that it means you are conducting unique research (Yay!), it is not so wonderful in that it can be difficult to find the requisite sources to complete your lit review (Boo!).  So, where do you go from here?

crossroads

Image by Lori Greig. CC license here.

One wonderful strategy for tackling this problem (or any research, really) is ‘cited reference searching’.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, it simply means looking at which authors/publications have cited an article related to your field of study. Following citation chains helps you track the scholarly conversation while at the same time freeing you of the need to think of the exact search terms which might elicit such results.

The Fielding Library has a number of resources which can assist you with this type of searching: Google Scholar, Social Sciences Citation Index, and many of the individual databases (such as those made by ProQuest).

Social Sciences Citation Index is a database dedicated exclusively to this type of research. It’s worth becoming familiar with, but requires a bit more depth than a handy blog post can supply. Check out the Fielding Cited Reference Searching LibGuide to learn all about it, Google Scholar, and PsycINFO!

Let’s take a look at a simpler example using Google Scholar.

Imagine you are deep into your research on adolescent involvement in community organizations, but you’re having trouble discovering additional articles. You do have a citation for a wonderful article published in 2008…so why not see who has cited it since?

You head over to Google Scholar, being sure to connect via the library so you can see what results we have in our collection. When you land on the search page, simply copy and paste the full article title in the search box and press search:

citedref

Below the article title/description, you will see a convenient little ‘cited by’ link (if the article has been cited). Simply clicking on this link will then display the list of citing articles. Even better, while viewing the citing articles, you can select to ‘search within’ them to find those most related to your topic:

searchwithin

‘Search within’ is a wonderful tool, particularly when you are viewing lists of dozens or even hundreds of citing articles.

As a quick recap, one of the greatest benefits of cited reference searching is that it frees you from the difficult task of predicting which search terms will find the best results. For example, an article came up in my Google Scholar results list about ‘neighborhoods and HIV’. While this certainly sounds related to community organizing, it may not have come up in a keyword search if it those exact words (‘community’ and ‘organizing’) were not used in its abstract.

A final word to the wise: citation numbers are only numbers without context. An article could have been cited 97 times because it provides wonderful contributions to the field, or because 97 other authors wholly disagreed with its content. Context is key with citation numbers!

Happy Searching!

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