Following a Citation Trail

Following a Citation Trail

Overview: This set of activities encourages students to understand how they can use sources to read their way into an ongoing scholarly or public conversation by working closely with citations, Google Scholar, and library workshop skills.

Activity title: Following A Citation Trail

Author: Chris Kamrath

Activity brief description: This set of activities provides framework and follow up for the library workshop and helps students develop effective strategies for researching their topic. The activities move students through basic and then more advanced use of Google Scholar and also asks them to engage critically and proactively with the citations they find in their sources.

Course: PWR 1 (though could be adapted for PWR 2)

Activity Length & Schedule: Before the library workshop and after the library workshop (weeks 3-6) – while student is working on the texts in conversation assignment.

Activity goals:

  • This activity is designed to show students how sources are connected through bibliographies and citations.
  • This activity is designed to help students learn the process of reading their way into a conversation by finding one good source and then following citation trails.
  • This activity is designed to help students find keywords and concepts related to their topic in preparation for the library session.
  • After completing this activity, students should have a list of sources that are directly on topic and are directly in conversation with each other.

Activity details:

This set of activities involves several steps designed to move students through the research process and build on the library workshop.

1. Before the library workshop: Ask students to perform basic searches using google scholar. The goal here is for them to find keywords and concepts related to their topic

2. During the library workshop: Ask students to focus on finding one or two exceptional sources in the workshop, rather gathering many sources.

3. After the workshop:

  • Have students look carefully at the citations in their exceptional sources as well as the lit review section if it has one. What sources does the article rely on most heavily? Which ones does it seem most in conversation with? Have students review the bibliography:

Are there sources that are clearly on topic based on the title? Have student write a list of these sources and then find those sources to read. The goal here is for students to see ‘following a citation trail” as an iterative process that involves searching, reading, and searching once again. Students should be able to see that this is a process that allows them to follow a conversation that is happening among scholars and find the most important and relevant sources. This allows students to follow a citation trail backwards in time from their original source.

  • Now look back at the original source. What is its date? If the source itself is older, look at Google Scholar’s citation tracking (“Cited By 21” in the first example below) to follow the trail of citations FORWARD to see what more recent articles are citing it. Then find THOSE articles. Students can then search once again using their key words within the articles that cite the original sources.

Screenschot of Google Scholar citation tracking