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Forward citation tracing and backwards citation tracing in literature reviews

One of the skills I teach my students and research assistants on a regular basis is a method to find new citations across the literature. That’s what I (and others) call citation tracing.

The examples I use here come from a Google Scholar search, but you can extend the method to Web of Science, WebMD, and other databases.

Forward citation tracing:

Refers to the process of finding the newest articles, books or book chapters that cite a particular paper, book, or book chapter. I call it “forward citation tracing” because you are going forward from the date when the reference you’re alluding was published. So, for example, a forward citation tracing on my 2015 Review of Policy Research paper on transnational environmental activism will give me 7 citations, which I can then look through in order to see

forward citation tracing 1

Doing a forward citation tracing exercise can allow us to stay in touch with the most relevant research that is following a specific topic.

Backward citation tracing:

For me, backward citation tracing is key because it allows me to see if an author has omitted any crucial citations, or whether I can learn more from the texts they cited. This is an important exercise for my students and research assistants as well because they can see why a particular article they’re reading has gaps.

Another way to call forward and backward citation tracing is “Ascendancy Searches” and “Descendency” – which is basically searching up and down for citations.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Teaching proper citation practices: avoiding “Daisy chains” and grandparented cites when doing citation tracing – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on December 5, 2019

    […] have written a lot about how to do proper citation tracing (both forward and backward) to search who has cited whom and facilitate proper attribution of […]

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