Answered By: Deborah Kelley-Milburn
Last Updated: Jun 01, 2017     Views: 115


The most authoritative resource for citation tracing is Web of Science, a multidisciplinary database covering the journal literature of not just the sciences, but the social sciences and some arts & humanities literature as well. Its cited references index systematically tracks the references cited in a specific set of journals that meet its criteria for inclusion. 

Tracing footnotes in Web of Science is a two-step process.

  • Click on the "Cited Reference Search" link.  Then you enter the author's name.  If you wish, you can add the work's source, and/or publication year.  It's very important that you enter the information exactly as they indicate, e.g. author O'Brian C*
  • You will then see a list of specific references that match your search terms: select the ones you'd like to trace, and click on the "finish search" button.

You will then retrieve a list of the articles that cite the author(s) and/or work(s) you selected.

Web of Science's help file has more detailed information about the cited reference search.



Many other databases also offer various forms of "cited by" search or browse options. The accuracy and completeness of these searches vary. See, for example: 

  • JSTOR (look for the "citation locator" search)
  • Google Scholar (n.b. this returns many false positives, and the total citation counts tend to be inflated)
  • ScienceDirect (once on an article record, click on "citing articles")


As the number of full-text scholarly resources increases, it is often possible to approximate a cited reference search with an exact phrase search, since the "works cited" portion of a scholarly work is usually searchable in full-text resources. (I.e., if the reference you'd like to trace has been cited in a consistent way, you can do a phrase search for it, and your results will include most of the articles or books that cite the reference.) For literature in the humanities, exact phrase searching is an important tool, as many cited reference indexes have less complete coverage for humanities material.

There's a subtle but important difference between the pool of publications covered in a cited reference index and that represented by a full-text resource. Both types of resources use criteria based on a publication's scholarly qualifications and importance to its field when determining what to include. But a full-text resource's contents are determined in part by the availability of full-text licensing for desired publications, while the list of journals that Web of Science indexes is not affected by the availability of full-text licensing.


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