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Sociology 315/316: Methods I and Methods II

Research Foundation

At any point in time, scholarly research is built upon a foundation of other older scholarly research. As researchers do their work, they read and think about and are inspired by the work done (and published) by others. That older scholarly research sets the foundation and context for new questions that researchers ask and the experiments or studies they design to answer those questions.

Finding Older Articles Using Our Starting Article

Any reader of a scholarly article can indentify the foundation for that work by looking at the article's References or Works Cited section. The items in the References or Works Cited section are also called "cited references"  meaning that the author(s) of the article we are looking at cited these references in his or her own article because of their importance and relevance to the topic. Cited references are always older than the current article so we can refer to this as "looking backward." We can look backward beginning with our starting article  (pictured below) and identify articles in the References or Works Cited section that we should consider reading given their relevance to our interest in online identity.

image shows a sample academic article

image shows example from a reference page


Looking backward into the References section of the starting scholarly article by Tiffany Pempek and her colleagues, we can identify a scholarly article (older, as it was published in 2004) that also addresses online identity, a concept that Pempek and her colleagues discuss. This older article by S.R. Stern addresses online identity in the time before social networking sites became popular and thus provides some historical context and research regarding online identity. This older article is providing part of the foundation for the newer research conducted by Tiffany Pempek and her colleagues.


Looking for Newer Articles Using Online Tools

Unlike looking backward for older articles (where we can look at the References section of the article itself), we have no way of looking at our starting article and finding newer, related articles without the use of some online tools to help us. This does make sense if we stop and think about it. At the time an article is published, there is no way to know what other researchers will eventually find it and include it in their reference lists.

For us this means that we need to use online tools to help us "look foward". We'll do this using the Web of Science (once again...such a useful database) and Google Scholar.

  • The image below is of the full record for our starting article in the Web of Science database. Note that off to the right side of the full record, there is also a link called Times Cited. That link provides the list of newer items that include our starting article in their References lists.

web of science times cited link


  • The image below is of the record for our starting article in Google Scholar, which uses the link "Cited by" instead of "Times Cited" like in Web of Science. The "Cited by" link provides the list of newer items that include our starting article in their References lists.

google scholar "cited by" link

Note the difference in the number of newer items that Web of Science and Google Scholar link out to. Each tool covers a different set of journals and Google Scholar includes books (Web of Science tends not to include books in its Times Cited numbers).


Using "Times Cited" or "Cited by" to Judge Article Importance

When researchers refer to (or cite) the work of other researchers, they are telling the reader that these items are important to the research topic in question. If lots of researchers cite the same article, it means that the article has important information to communicate. This idea of article importance can help the new researcher (including you, as students) decide what articles are more valuable to read first.

We can use "Times Cited" to help us sort articles so that the ones that have been cited most often by others sit at the top of our results lists.

web of science sorted by times cited