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FTS: Democracy Then and Now: Bibliographic Trace

Conducting a Bibliographic Trace

As you find books and articles, be sure to mine their references for sources. This means reading what the author of a source says about other sources in the field. Most scholarly articles have a section (often near the beginning) where they discuss the research and scholarship that inspired their own. Books often have a section like this, too. Pay particular attention when the author says things like "So and so is a key leader in the field" or "So and so's methodology impact our work in significant ways." This is the conversation. Plus, you will probably want to track down some (or all) of the sources that your original source describes as significant.

By tracing cited works, you're drawing on the evidence others have used and may find connections that you would otherwise miss. You will also see the patterns of the conversation emerge: works cited by everyone else are worth a look; authors who write a lot about your topic are worth searching by name, etc. Finally, remember that this is the way most scholars search for sources, so if you also search this way, you'll be searching in a very sophisticated and informed manner.

How to do a bibliographic trace: Search for cited books by title or author in library catalogs; for journal articles, check the Do We Have This Journal by journal name to see if we have an article you want. Several databases also include features telling you how often a work has been cited. Use the Tracking Down Sources tab (above) for more pointers on how to find hard copies. Please also contact me or any other librarian if you need help at any point of this process.

You can (and should) also go forward in time to see who has cited your original source.

  • To see who has cited a work since it was published - enter your original source in Google Scholar and look for the Cited By link underneath the information about the source.


Julie Gilbert's picture
Julie Gilbert
I love meeting with students and faculty to talk about your research, including any issues you have - or even if you just want to brainstorm. There are lots of ways to reach me. Email me with questions or use the old fashioned phone number below to contact me. Or stop by during my reference/office hours: Wednesdays from 2:30 - 4:30 and Thursdays from 1:00 - 2:30. I'll either be in my office (Library 108B on the lower level) or the reference desk on the main floor.
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