Studying Effectively

Citation searching

Researchers will usually cite other people’s work in their own research to support arguments they make or to disagree with the arguments of other researchers.

Citation searching allows you to track down which researchers have cited a particular journal article.

Benefits of citation searching

The main use of citation searching is that it allows you to follow research leads both forwards and backwards in time. 

The diagram below explains how a cited reference search differs from a traditional search.

Citation search diagram

Citation searching can also help identify the seminal research that has been carried out.  For example, a journal article that has been cited a number of times suggests that this piece of research could be particularly important in its field.

A low number of citations may indicate that the research is less useful.

However, the number of times cited doesn’t always equate to good quality.  Reasons for this may include:

  • The research in question may be in a very small field and therefore may not attract so many citations, but the research is still valid 
  • Controversial research papers (for example on the subject of MMR) may attract multiple citations, but this may not guarantee the quality of the research
  • Some researchers may self-cite; a piece of research may appear to have a lot of citations, but these may be self-citations to other papers and work carried out by the original author

Citation counts are now being used to inform accreditations and assessments in some areas, for example the REF (Research Excellence Framework).

Searching for citation information

The Web of Science is the principle database which allows citation searching.

UK and Malaysia students can view a Thomson Reuters demonstration about how to perform a cited reference search within the Web of Science (YouTube).  Students in China should refer to the help section in the Web of Science.

The Scopus database also provides citation information for journal articles as does Google Scholar.  

Citation searching



Further reading

Introduction to citation analysis and bibliometrics

Reading and interpreting sources and data

Finding resources

Keeping up to date

People who can help

Talk to someone in your school or a specialist support service


Studying Effectively

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