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Cited Reference Searching: A How-To Guide

This guide covers search techniques and resources that offer the ability to search the list of references (or footnotes) found in journal articles, books, websites, etc.

First Steps

  • Make sure you have the citation to an article(s) that you want to start with.
  • Look through this basic tutorial.
  • Try a few searches in the Web of Science Core Collection and Google Scholar.
  • Check out the other resources that now offer cited reference searching via the tabs above.

Tips & Warnings

  • Before searching for a cited reference in a database, do a keyword search and pull up a couple of articles at random to see how their cited references appear. Do they include titles of the articles, or author names spelled out in full? Use this information to influence how you construct your search.
  • Test out the search first using a cited reference that you know is in the database and see how effective various types of Advanced Searches are at finding that particular reference.
  • Copy/paste information into a program (such as WordPerfect, Word, Excel, Access, or EndNote) to compile a list of citations that you can sort alphabetically by author and eliminate duplication in the results. I also tend to note which database(s) provided the citation so I have an overall picture of which methods found results.
  • Try searching using author name spelling variations – due to common typographical errors and difficulty reading handwritten research notes.
  • Be careful of search pages which offer “citation search” features – these are not looking for cited references; rather they are offering the option to go directly to a specific article in the database.
  • Notice that some databases can only search through HTML versions of full-text articles and not PDF while others can do both.
  • In some databases, searching full-text will search for words anywhere (acknowledgements, errata sheets, appendices, references, etc.). Others will only search the main body of the text of the article.
  • Many databases/collections only contain references starting in recent years – 2002 to the present. Older citations may exist but may not be included in the database, yet.
  • Each database has slightly different content – many have full text for newer articles, but not older ones.
  • For databases that only offer the option to search within full-text (and not specifically in references), the most effective search is a combination of author last name and a keyword from either the journal name or the article title.
  • Web search engines will pull up multiple links (including mirror sites) with many duplicate entries.

Tips for specific databases are mentioned in the charts on the Science & Technology and Social Sciences & Humanities tabs on the left side of this page.

Your Librarian

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Lorrie Pellack
Head, Research Services Dept.
150c Parks Library
Ames, IA 50011-2140
Phone: 515-294-5569