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Guide to Science Information Resources: Backward & Forward Reference Searching

What is Reference Searching?

What is reference searching?  Forward backward chain search pearl growingOnce a researcher locates high-impact or key publications on his or her topic, they can take their search further by looking at the references or works cited in those articles.  This is called reference searching and is also known by a few different terms:  pearl growing, chain searching, and citation mining.

See the types of reference searching that can be done, their purposes, and the tools that can be used to do them.

Backward Reference Searching

Backward reference searching, also known as chain searching, involves identifying and examining the references or works cited in an article.  It is done for the following reasons:

  • Learn about the development of knowledge on a topic. 
  • Study the origins and development of a theory, construct, or model of interest. 
  • Identify experts, institutions or organizations that specialize in a topic of research.

A second-level or second-generation backward reference search is when a researcher examines sources cited by the references used in an initial article.  This allows a researcher to identify inconsistencies in the literature.  Third-level or third-generation searches are where the references of articles located in a second-level or second-generation reference search are examined.  These searches can also go further back.

Backward Author Searching.  The works of an author can be examined by doing a backward reference search.  This allows a researcher to review an author's revious work and publications, and also the development of their research.

Tools for Backward Searching (Available Through the FAU Libraries):

Example of References Cited

Forward Reference Searching

Forward reference searching is when a researcher identifies articles that cite an original article or work after it had been published.  This type of search focuses on the publications created after an an article's publication. 

Forward reference searching helps a researcher do the following:

  • Expand their knowledge on a topic by locating follow-up studies. 
  • Identify new findings and developments on a topic
  • Examine and consider other methodologies or analyses used to study a topic.

Forward Author Searching.  Forward reference searching can also be done to find a particular author and his or her works.  This allows a researcher to review an author's later or more current works, and also examine new developments

Tools for Forward Reference Searching (Available Through the FAU Libraries).  Some, but not all, journal publishers show the number of times an article has been cited and may have links to the citing articles.  Check the journal where an article was published for this feature.  See Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry published by Taylor & Francis as one example (FAUNet log-on required).

Additional tools include: