Citation Chaining

If you're struggling to locate relevant sources for a research project, you may want to use a research strategy called citation chaining to help find sources related to your topic. Citation chaining is a method by which you trace an idea or topic both forward and backward in time either by sources that have cited a particular work or through the references that a particular work has cited. This idea of linking one source to another, which then links to another, creates a chain of related sources or citations.

Citation chaining allows you to identify key authors, publications, and journals in your area of study, and understand how researchers are building on and sometimes challenging each others work. It provides insight into the scholarly conversation surrounding your research topic.

Backward chaining

Backward chaining involves looking at a published work's references to find other material that covers similar topics.

Once you find an article or book relevant to your research topic, the references or works cited section will give you the citation information the author(s) used to develop their own ideas. This is a great way to find other sources that relate to your topic.

Resources cited in your article

  • will be older than the article.
  • will help you identify past resources on the same topic (such as theories or classic articles).

Forward chaining

Forward chaining involves researching the sources that have cited a particular work to find more recent material covering similar topics.

A couple of databases that are really useful for forward chaining are Google Scholar, Scopus and Web of Science. These databases will show a list of references for a particular work if that item has been cited by other works in those particular databases.

Resources that cite your article

  • will be newer than the article you've already found.
  • will help you identify more recent, relevant research.

Be aware: Exclusively using citation chaining to locate resources can be limiting and can keep you from discovering other valuable research.

Also, be aware that not all citations are created equal. By simply looking at a bibliography you will not be able to tell which articles will be relevant to you. You will need to think critically about the resources in your chain, and judge whether they are useful to you.

Sometimes Cited Reference Searching can be useful to figure out if an article is valuable or not.

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