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Research Impact & Metrics

What is Cited Reference Searching?

Cited reference searching is a way of finding articles that have cited a previously published work. Because many databases index each citation listed in a bibliography, it is possible to search these cited references. One can follow a particular cited reference, or cited author, forward in time to find more current articles that have also cited that author or work.

You may wish to follow cited references for several reasons:

  • to locate current research based on earlier research, patents, reports, etc
  • to find out how many times and where a publication is being cited
  • to find out how a particular research topic is being used
  • to support other research
  • to track the history of a research idea
  • to track the research of a colleague, or your own

Track Citations for Research & Promotion

At many universities, citation searching is used as one means of evaluating the research quality of faculty. The basic premise is that the more times an author is cited, the more important s/he is. Although a high number of citations can indicate that an author or article has had a major impact, other factors should be considered:

  • citation rates vary widely from field to field (e.g., an experimental physics publication may produce hundreds more citations than a theoretical humanities paper)
  • citation rate may be based on a few prolific authors citing each other
  • chronological distribution of citations might indicate the longevity of a paper's importance (e.g., 25 cited references spread out evenly over the past 5 years might have more impact than 100 cited references that all occurred over 5 years ago)
  • the quality of the journal producing the citation may need to be considered
  • citation searching works best for journal articles (not books)
  • international or cross-disciplinary research may produce fewer citations
  • coverage of the particular field in the citation database may be weak
  • the research may be too recent and not widely known

It is important to note that because of problems inherent in citation analysis, it should not be the only means of faculty evaluation.

When you find an article or book that is essential to your research topic, you usually look at the bibliography of sources that author used. 

But it can be equally important to find out who has cited that article or book in more recent research, via cited reference searching.

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