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Citation Chaining: Using One Source to Find More

An introduction to using citations to find more sources

Citation Chaining: Using One Source to Find More

One of the best ways to find more sources is through citation chaining. With citation chaining, you find other sources that an original source has referenced. These citations create a "web" of related sources.

This "web" reflects a kind of "conversation" in which authors and researchers build on, and sometimes challenge, one another's work. Citation chaining will help you not only identify more relevant sources on a topic, but also have a fuller understanding of the larger conversations about that topic. 

Video: A Better Way to Find (UNSW-Sydney eLearning): 

In a Nutshell: 

  • If you find one source that is relevant to your research topic, review its reference list for additional sources (backward chaining).
  • You can also look for sources that have cited the source you began with (forward chaining).

Why Do It? 

  • gives you insight into the "scholarly conversation": how researchers are building on, talking about, and sometimes challenging one another's work

  • allows you to track the development of key findings and arguments over time

  • identify key authors, publications, and journals in an area of study

  • provides a measure of scholarly impact (how influential a work is in an area of study)

One Caveat

Exclusively using citation chaining to locate sources can keep you from discovering valuable research that is new or that has received less attention. Use it as just one tool in your research toolbox! 

Backward Chaining

Backward chaining is like looking back in time to see what other authors said before that has influenced the author of the article you're viewing. Look at a relevant source's references. (Scholarly sources include reference lists at the end. Popular sources more often include links to their references.)  Resources cited in a piece of research relevant to your topic will often be similarly useful. 

When you identify another relevant source, you can search for it through Rowan's Library Search or Google Scholar, or you can ask a librarian. If the Library doesn't have access to the item, we can usually get it through interlibrary loan.

Forward Chaining

Forward chaining is like looking ahead at what others later when referencing the article you'll looking at. In other words, you search for resources that have cited your starting resource. To do this, check Google Scholar or use select library databases for "Cited by" links.

Library databases that provide "Cited by" links include:

Other databases often include an article's references, so look at the search features in other databases to see if this is an option.  

Video: Citation Chaining with Google Scholar (Seattle U Library)

Google Scholar's "Cited by" feature is a great tool for forward citation chaining.