How do I do a citation search?

Student writing in a journal and searching on a laptop

What is a citation search?

Citation searching is a way of finding relevant research in a field or subject by looking at what an article has referenced and who has since used that article as a reference. For example, you might find a journal article published in 2017. You can do a citation search to find the articles that the 2017 article has referenced, but also find out if anyone has since referenced the 2017 article.

Why do a citation search?

  • It can turn up relevant articles from unexpected disciplines.
  • You are not dependent on using the author's or indexer's choice of vocabulary to discover resources.
  • It allows you to follow up discussion and argument, to see how an argument or idea developed.
  • It is helpful for putting together a bibliography or list of recommended readings.
  • It is a useful way of finding other possible search terms you can use to find information.

What information do I use?

First you identify a key article, author or book which you are studying or has been referenced in an article you are looking at. By using the title or author's name from that source, you can conduct a citation search in a database. This search will give you a list of other articles that have included the same article, author or book in their own reference lists. This indicates that these articles probably discuss some aspect of the subject you are interested in.

You are constructing a "web of knowledge" for your subject. You will usually notice that useful articles appear in journals seemingly unrelated to your topic.

How do I do it?

Choose an article or book that will be the target of your search (in publication for at least one or two years). Then locate a database with a citation index. For example, Web of ScienceGoogle ScholarAcademic Search CompleteScienceDirect, and Scopus include citation indexes of their own.


Web of Science

Here is an example search from Web of Science using Jones, J.C. (1980) Design Methods: Seeds of Human Futures, 2nd edn, Wiley, as the target book citation:

  1. Access Web of Science.
  2. Select ‘Cited references' search.
  3. Enter the name of your target author in the prescribed format (Jones JC) and the year of publication (1980).
  4. Select Search.
  5. You will then get a list of the books and papers published by Jones in 1980, which have been cited in the bibliographies of the articles in the database.
  6. Select the entries in the list that match the work you are interested in (in this case Design Methods: Seeds of Human Futures). Then select 'See Results'.
  7. Have a look at the articles in the results list and use the mark feature to save them in a list of useful references.

For a visual guide, see these Web of Science recorded training guides.

Google Scholar

Here is an example search from Google Scholar using Jones, J.C. (1980) Design Methods: Seeds of Human Futures, 2nd edn, Wiley, as the target book citation:

  1. Go to Google Scholar.
  2. Search for the text you are interested in e.g. Jones Design Methods: Seeds of Human Futures 1980.
  3. Under the entry for that text, follow the ‘Cited by [number of citations]’ link.
  4. This presents you with a list of other sources that have cited the text you specified.
  5. Have a look at the sources in the results list.