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What is a Citation Search?

A Citation search reveals the number of times a particular article/author has been cited in other works (generally articles, but this depends on the database).

A citation search can also be useful when you are looking for a particular journal or year(s) of publication, but for general scholarship, the citation search is most often used to find the citation history of an article or author.

When you have a particular work which you intend to use for your research:

  1. You can consult the bibliographical information provided by that particular work. This is called "backward citation" or "citation mining."
  2. You can consult a citation index for that particular work and discover what other works referenced that particular work. This is called '"forward citation" or "citation searching."

The Distinction Between a "Reference" and a "Citation"

The concept of "citation indexing" was explained by Eugene Garfield in his paper, "The concept of citation indexing: A unique and innovative tool for navigating the research literature," in 1994. the following is a quote from Derek Price that Garfield uses to distinguish between a reference and a citation.

"It seems to me a great pity to waste a good technical term by using the words citation and reference interchangeably. I therefore propose and adopt the convention that if Paper R contains a bibliographic footnote using and describing Paper C, then R contains a reference to C, and C has a citation from R. The number of references a paper has is measured by the number of items in its bibliography as endnotes, footnotes, etc., while the number of citations a paper has is found by looking it up [in a] citation index and seeing how many other papers mention it." (qtd from Derek Price's Little Science, Big Science, p. 284) 1

Thus a work has a citation when it is used in another work.
A work has a reference when it uses other works.

Note: The name for executing a "citation search" varies greatly between databases. Some examples are: "Cited References," "Bibliography Search," "Cited Reference Search," etc.

Why is Citation Searching Helpful?

Citation searching primarily allows you to identify influential and seminal authors and works about a particular topic.

The number of times a single resource has been cited directly indicates its relevance in a particular field.

Citation searching reveals:

(1) How a source has been used over time
(2) What other resources relevant to a topic of research are available
(3) Themes within or around a particular topic of research

How to Conduct a Citation Search

Citation Searching is most commonly used in the fields of the Sciences and the Social Sciences, however it can be beneficial to all fields of study.

Waidner-Spahr Library at Dickinson College currently subscribes to hundreds of different databases, only some of which provide the ability to conduct a citation search. As our subscriptions change yearly, this guide will demonstrate how to conduct a citation search in the most common and stable examples: EBSCO and Web of Science.

A "citation search" can only begin by first having an initial search term. This generally is either an author or the title of a particular work.

You will search for a particular author or article/work.

1. IF you search for an author:

  • A list of various works by that particular author will be generated.
- Each of these will indicate the number of times that particular work has been cited by other works.
- This allows you to see how prolific this particular author is in his/her field.
- This allows you to see how the original author's work has been used, has affected his/her field, has developed over time.
- This also will theoretically provide you with other potential sources to refer to for your own work.

2. If you search for a particular article/work:

  • A list of various works that could be that particular work will be generated.
- When you select a particular work, a list will generate populated by works which cited that selected work.
- This allows you to see how influential a particular work is in a field of study
- This allows you to see the various ways in which a single work is used, e.g. in other fields of study.

Below are specific examples of how to conduct these searches within Web of Science and EBSCO.

Web of Science

Web of Science predominantly maintains coverage over the Sciences and Social Sciences.

Citation Search on Web of Science

Cited Reference Search Page

Above the Web of Science Banner, you will see a link labeled, "Cited Reference Search." Click it.

WoS standardizes the search terms for variants of the author name, journal name, and years of publications across its various databases, thus your search will be most effective using these search terms.

Once you conduct your search, a page will be generated with a list of possible works. The length of the list can be extensive if your search terms are not narrow enough. On this page you will view possible matches for your search, some brief citation information, and all the way on the right you will see the numbed of "times cited," or in this case, Citing Articles for that particular work.
Search Results

From there, select the work(s) in which you are interested and click "Finish Search" at the bottom or top of the list. This will bring you to a new page that lists those "Citing Articles." These are automatically arranged from most recent to least recent. From this page, you can refine your search as needed.

Waidner-Saphr's Get It! Article Linker Button is on these pages so you will easily be able to collect the articles you desire.

WoS conveniently provides training videos, which are linked in the upper right hand corner of this new page. For the training video on Citation Searches in WoS, click here. You can skip to page 8 for just the "how," although the entire presentation is helpful in understanding how WoS runs their citation searches. See also this help page to understand the different search fields.

Citation Search Through EBSCO

Many of the databases provided through Waidner-Spahr Library are hosted through EBSCO.
"Cited References" in EBSCO

If a particular database on EBSCO has the ability to do a citation search, there will be a link on the top bar called "Cited References." Click it.

Note: Although JumpStart is capable of searching through many of our databases in order to locate articles, JumpStart is NOT capable of doing a citation search.

EBSCO, unfortunately, does not standardize its search results, so, like many papers, if a work is published more than once, multiple results will appear in your search. Some of these will be cited within the database and some will not, even if the result appears to be an exact duplicate.

Cited References Search Results

Regardless, when a work has cited sources within the database (thus EBSCO databases are generally limited to a single discipline whereas WoS is not), a "checkbox" will appear next to the work. (See image). Check the relevant checkbox(es) and click on "Find Citing Articles."

This generates the list of works which cite the original work for which the user searched.

EBSCO also hosts Waidner-Spahr's Get It! Article Linker Button.

Although a user can actually select multiple databases at once to perform a regular search, a "Cited References" search cannot be conducted if more than one database is selected.

Note: When conducting a regular search on an EBSCO-hosted database, if a particular work's bibliographic references are on on the database as well, this will appear as "Cited References" on the result. This would be "citation mining" or "backward citation." You can actually limit your search to include only works for which the database has the cited works.
Cited References within a normal EBSCO search

Related Records -- If you locate a work that cites other works hosted in the database, you can actually conduct another kind of search that will locate similar works. By clicking on the "Cited References: [#]", the list of referenced works is generated. From there, you can select works that appear particularly relevant and click the "Related Records" button at the top of the list. This will then generate a new list of works related to the original article, sorted by greatest relevance first, which is determined by the number of shared resources.

EBSCO also has a help page to guide you through their citation search. Type "Cited References" in the search bar and it will bring you to the appropriate page.

Note: This is different than "citation matcher" which is a service many databases provide which allows the user to search for the full citation of a work for which the user only has partial information.

Free Citation Search Engines


Although these engines can still prove fruitful for the quest for relevant resources for your topic, it is imperative that you assess the quality of the resources which you may discover. Please consult the Evaluating Resources page before you commit any undue time to unworthy sources.

Google Scholar

Google Search Pane

Google Scholar is a vast free database that searches through every discipline, examining not only articles, but also books, "theses, [...] abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites."3 For this same reason, it can be a misleading and dangerous resource if the user is not careful to assess the works presented by Google Scholar.

Google Scholar also offers a help page, which users should definitely look over before beginning a search. The Google Scholar search module is not nearly as refined as those presented by WoS, EBSCO, and others. It is necessary that a user read over this page in order to perform an effective search.

Waidner-Spahr has already set up "Library Links" with Google Scholar, but make sure your preferences reflect that before executing a search.

  • If it is not already set up, click on "Library Links" in the left side bar and search for "Dickinson College." By setting up Library Links, Google Scholar will be able to tell you if that resource is available through our catalog, and through a few of our databases.
  • If, by chance, you find a work that you think will be useful to you, but Google Scholar does not indicate that we have it, do not hesitate to order the item by Borrowing from Other Libraries.

Once you conduct your search in Google Scholar, a list will be generated of potential works for your search terms:

At the bottom of each result there can be a number of things listed. For the purposes of "citation searching," you should be primarily concerned about the one that reads, "Cited by #."

Clicking on this will lead you to a new page of the works which cited that original work.
  • All the same options apply here to the previous list, including where these works are cited, related articles, library search to locate where you might gain access to this work, and even if you can get it through Dickinson.
  • It also features the ability to refine these sources down further by "Searching within citing articles."

If the work is an article that is available through Dickinson's online databases, you should be able to click on the name of the article (or in line with the name to the right there will be another link saying from which database it is available, which you can click as well) and GS will load that work.

If the work is available through Dickinson but not online, clicking the text in line and to the right of the title will take you to a page letting you know how to locate that material.


  1. Garfield, E. "The concept of citation indexing: A unique and innovative tool for navigating the research literature." Thomson Reuters. 3 Jan 1994. Web. 11 July 2012.
  2. hkslibrary. "Citation Searching." YouTube. 12 July 20120. Web. 11 July 2012.
  3. "About Google Scholar." Google Scholar. Google. 2011. Web. 12 July 2012.