How To Find References For Research Paper

Research paper sources can be difficult to find – especially if you want the good ones.

And we want good ones. One of the exercises we often have our students in our online study skills courses do (you can find info on them here) is to think about your teacher having to read all of those papers. If you are a high school English teacher and you’ve assigned 120+ students to write a 10 page research paper, how many do you have to read?

And – knowing how high school students often write – think about how much fun that will be. Sure, some of those papers will be interesting. But there will be some stale ones, too.

Don’t be the student who turns in the stale research paper. It’s a sure way to miss the success level you desire. Instead, find some creative ways to make your research paper interesting. Research papers can be fascinating and enjoyable, especially when you dig up unique and noteworthy research paper sources.

Here are six quick tips that will help you do fast, effective research, and find great research paper sources that will set you apart from your classmates.

1. Start with Wikipedia

A few years ago, this would have been heresy. I’m aware of that.

But I’m not suggesting you should quote the Wikipedia article. We realize that there may still be some negative realities that come with a site that anyone can edit. Sure, occasionally some goof will get some weird information published on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia, though, is more accurate than any other encyclopedia.

As hard as that may be to believe, it’s been tested and found true.

But that’s not even why we’re going to Wikipedia. We go only for two real reasons: first, it’s a nice overview of whatever topic you’re trying to research (let’s say you’re studying  learning styles). The Wikipedia article will give you most of the big ideas associated with the topic, as well as link out to other ideas that may be similar. Starting here helps you get your bearings in the subject. After all, you’re stepping into a conversation that has been going on for years and years.

Second – and most importantly – we’re after the citations and sources at the bottom. Wikipedia frequently cites the most important research paper sources for you. It just makes sense to start here. (In our example article – learning styles – there are nearly 50 sources cited)

2.  Go to the library (a great place for research paper sources)

After you’ve dug through your Wikipedia article, the next step is an easy one – go to the library. Unless you’re studying something that has recently come into existence (like trying to find research paper sources about Facebook), your local or school library will be your best resource.

Go there, and armed with your Wikipedia knowledge, start searching for the best sources. We’re not just after any sources, though. We’re after only the best research paper sources. This will require a little bit of effort, but you can find some success without too much effort if you know what type of research paper sources you need to find.

3. Find the top few secondary resources cited in the article

Depending on the size of your paper, you’ll use a different number of sources. But the goal is to use the most authoritative sources possible.

If you want to know about teeth, for example, who would you consult – a dentist or a hockey player? The dentist, because he has more experience with teeth, has studied teeth, and he probably has all of his.

But if you’re trying to get some information on the best ice skates to buy, who would you consult – the dentist or the hockey player? Again, you consult the one with the most authority on the particular subject – in this case, the hockey player.

So how can you decide which sources are most authoritative? Try to find the sources that have been cited by the most other sources. This takes a bit of research before you’re able to find these, but as you read several sources, you should start to see a pattern of references. Follow that pattern.

Another place to check is Google Scholar. This service will tell you how many times your different research paper sources have been cited. Use those sources with the most citations.

4. Follow the trail of citations to primary sources

After you’ve found a few good resources that help explain your topic, get to the sources behind those research paper sources.

This is an area you have a real opportunity to set your paper apart from your classmates.

Generally speaking, the closer a resource is to the topic you’re studying, the better.

If you are studying Abraham Lincoln, try to find some letters he himself wrote. Maybe you could find an original newspaper clipping of interviews with the people closest to him. Journal entries are great finds, too.

If you are studying something more recent, sometimes you can find video or audio interviews with major players in your topic. If you’re studying someone who is still alive, maybe you could interview him or her yourself.

Can you imagine how unique your research paper sources would look if you had a personal interview with a high-ranking government official, or a family member close to someone you’re writing about? Get creative here. The more unique your sources and the more creative you are in getting them, the more unique your paper will be.

Make some phone calls, dig through some microfilm (ask your librarian if you don’t know what that is), and search out the most interesting and unique sources you can for your paper.

5. Mix up your research paper source type

Don’t just stick to the normal sources – a book and a few journal articles. These are great resources, but finding truly interesting, unique, and noteworthy research paper sources requires you to go beyond those traditional sources.

They are great places to start. But don’t stop there.  Think about some of these other source types for ideas:

  • Newspaper articles
  • Private journal or diary entries
  • Letters
  • Edited collections of essays
  • Scholarly journals
  • Sound recordings
  • Film, TV, or video recordings
  • Google books
  • Magazines
  • Personal interviews

6. Get at least one source per page of your research paper

This sort of a good, general standard that will probably last you through high school and college. Different institutions have different standards, but this is a good starting place. Make sure to check your assignment requirements before you stop researching, though!

I once helped a student gather a number of research paper sources for her final project as a high school student. She got bored, though. So she quit. And she got a terrible grade. That’s what you should expect, too, if you don’t get enough resources.

If you get enough research paper resources while following these tips to make them interesting and unique, and I’m confident your research paper will stand out from your classmates.

Filed Under: blogTagged With: writing

Jump to: Guidelines | Search Tips for Specific Databases |Tutorials and How-To's

What are cited references?

Articles, books and other resources listed in a Bibliography or "Works Cited" list, or "References" list (example at right).

Why are cited references important?

Locating cited references is useful for finding current articles on a topic, identifying the top researchers in a field, and for tenure decisions.

How can I find who has cited a specific author or work?

Cited reference searching is available in indexes such as CINAHL, Communication and Mass Media Index, Sociological Abstracts, Elsevier Science Direct as well as many full-text searchable databases. Any full-text database may offer the possibility of retrieving items cited in the bibliography that match the search strategy keywords. The Oviatt Library also has access to ISI Web of Science.  Free resources are available on the Web:

  • Google Scholar: a free web search engine, also helps identify cited references in open access journal articles and on websites. Read more About Google Scholar and details of searching cited references
  • Google Books: a free web search engine, is a growing collection of scanned online books


Cited reference searching should have a search strategy broad enough to allow for the following pitfalls.

  • Search results depend on the content in the database. If a journal that cited a particular work is not indexed by the database, then a reference to your work will not appear in your search results. Check to see which databases index journals that cover your topic.
  • Search all permutations of the cited author's name: last name; last name and first initial; last name, first and middle initials.
  • For some articles, only the first author may be indexed. If someone is the second or third author, remember you should also search by the lead author to locate the cited references.
  • Journals use different formats for articles cited. Beware of inconsistency in citation format such as misspellings, incorrect years or volume numbers. Citation databases and indexes are minimally edited.
  • Cited reference searching works best for references to periodical articles. 
  • If you locate only a few or no cited references to an article, consider whether the research may be too recent.

Search Tips for Specific Databases with Cited Reference Searching

Jump to:

EbscoHost Platform (includes CINAHL, Communication and Mass Media Index with full text (CMMI))

Sociological Abstracts on CSA platform

Sage supported searching the references and, if the article is published by Sage, it provides links to citing articles.

Google Scholar a free web search engine, also helps identify cited references in open access journal articles and on websites

Indirect Cited References

Search for the author and/or title in the collection

EBSCO platform

CINAHL (on EbscoHost), PsycINFO (on EbscoHost ), and Communication and Mass Media Index (CMMI) on EbscoHost

EbscoHost help for cited references

To search cited references, select the pull down menu under "More" for "Cited References" link on the toolbar of CINAHL:

To search cited references, click the Cited References button, visible in both Basic and Advanced Search tabs in PsycINFO and CMMI.


Search by Cited Author, Cited Source, Cited Title, Cited Date, or All Citation Fields. Use the format Lastname Initial Initial when searching by Cited Author.

  1. In the results screen, check boxes next to selected articles and click the Find Citing Articles button to view a list of sources that cite them.
  2. In the "Citing Articles" screen, click the Cited References link to view all the references given in a specific citing article.

Sociological Abstracts (CSA)

(link to Sociological Abstracts)

  1. Set the field chooser on the far right to References, RE= and type in the author name(s) and/or title for which you wish to find citations.
  2. Click on individual items in the results list to view references citing the author or title you searched. Click the "Cited by [NUMBER]" link next to the citation to find more articles containing that citation.


(link to ScienceDirect)

Using the advance search option (link on the far right hand side of the search boxes, search within References to locate journal articles that have cited an article, patent or conference paper. For some articles published by Elsevier Group, use the Cited by link in the full record display to locate newer article(s) that have cited that article. This feature is an exact word match in the reference list of each article. The result of this search is heavily dependent that the reference is entered identically into the database. It is important to try all possible formats. To begin, click on All Sources then search the References.

or alternatively,

Search for a known article by author and/or title. Select the title to view the abstract and related information. The "Cite by" information box will be on the right hand side of the displayed page.


(link to Emerald)

Emerald provides "Cited by" information in the abstract view for an article. A reference may be discovered through a keyword search.


(link to Sage)

Sage provides a search of references. Abstracts for articles published in the Sage journal collection provide citation information for articles which cite the publication in question at the bottom of the page. on the left hand side, links to finding citing articles through other resources

If the article is published in Sage journals, it provides a powerful "Cited by" option.

Google Scholar

(link to Google Scholar)

It is more precise to use the advanced search option. Publisher citation searching, SCOPUS, an ISI Web of Science database or Google will generate different results based on their knowledge base. The JSTOR example above shows that the JSTOR knowledge database knows of 12 citations. Google Scholar knows of 238.



|SciFinder Scholar's Chemical Abstracts

(link to SciFinder Web )

Search by author, title, etc. From the list of search results, select the reference(s) you want to trace.

Click the Citing References link


PubMed Central (PMC)

(link to PubMed Central (PMC))

PubMed Central (PMC) is a full-text database. To search for references cited in the full text articles,

  1. Select PMC in the drop-down databases menu next to the main search box.
  2. Click the Preview/Index tab, then set the drop down "search field" menu to Reference or Reference Author.
  3. Type search terms in the adjacent text box (for author, type author’s last name first initial(s)) and click the Preview button. Preview will display the search strategy in the main search box and link its retrieval under the "Most Recent Queries" section of the page. You can add multiple terms to a single search by clicking the AND, OR, or NOT buttons.
  4. Click the Go button in the main search box to view the search results.

Example: PMC search for Reference Author pauling l AND Referencevitamin c:

You cannot search cited references in PubMed directly, but you can find citations and citing articles available in PMC.


(link to JSTOR)

Keyword search will retrieve author's name in the references as well as the full text article the author has written. A link will take you to the page scan of the article. On this page, boxes on the right hand side will show the number of articles that cite the author's work in JSTOR and in a separate box, it will provide a link to Google Scholar.

Need more help?: Ask a Librarian for Help

If you need more help doing library research, you can ask a CSUN librarian for help in-person, via online chat, email, or by phone.

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