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What is Cited Reference Searching?

Cited reference searching is a research strategy you can use to find out what other authors/articles are citing a particular work. While it is most common to use this strategy when searching for known items, you can also use this strategy when searching on a topic more generally.

Why use it? This is a great way to find current literature on a given topic as well as to visualize the larger conversation surrounding your research.  

Note: Cited reference searching is a great way to find related materials, but you must examine the citation numbers carefully. Some articles are heavily cited because they are important milestones in the literature. Others are cited heavily because they are controversial or contested and are thus commented on frequently.

What Databases Can I Use?

Only one of our databases is dedicated specifically to cited reference searching: Social Sciences Citation Index. You can locate this database by following the 'databases' link on the library website.

Even though other databases are not dedicated to this type of searching, they can still be useful in tracking citations. Google Scholar and some ProQuest databases like PsycINFO are great options.


To get started, use the tabs at the top of the screen or the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen to move through this tutorial.

Drawbacks of citation searching

The use of citation analysis to assess research output is contentious.

A large number of citations does not necessarily mean the work should be viewed as authoritative. Work can be cited by other authors for a number of different reasons and some of the recognised drawbacks when using citations are:

  • negative citation - a work is cited to criticise or correct
  • self citation - an author cites their own work
  • preferential citing of a brief paper in a prestigious journal than to a “more comprehensive paper” in a speciality journal
  • journal referees’ recommendations to authors, who have submitted work for publication approval, to include reference to the referee’s work
  • citation circles - friends citing friends
  • it is serials dependent - citation searching/analysis tends to concentrate on output in journals or conference proceedings and researchers in different disciplines vary in how much they communicate through these media.
  • restrictions on article length imposed by journal editors resulting in an author reducing the number of citations s/he would have originally provided

Likewise, not being cited does not invalidate a work. There are acknowledged reasons for this:

  • work doesn’t have to be cited to have influenced someone else’s work
  • delayed recognition - although work is cited most in the 10 years after its publication, some works may have a longer delay.
  • “obliteration by incorporation” I - review articles tend to be cited in preference to the individual papers reviewed and many uncited papers involve supersedure. E.g. Each new laboratory report by established investigators builds on and/or supersedes their own earlier work. It is not unusual to observe that after a
    decade of research, the entire corpus is superseded by a "review" which is preferentially cited by subsequent investigators
  • “obliteration by incorporation” II - incorporation into a subject’s accepted knowledge such that it can be quoted without the need for citation
  • newly published papers may not yet to be cited by others