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Grey Literature and Other Sources: Citation searching

An overview of key search strategies to locate grey literature, informal or unpublished material. Provides sources and instructions on reporting requirements for systematic reviews.

Citation searching title banner

Why follow cited and citing references?

Many databases allow you to follow citations. You can follow research ideas by using reference lists and citations to identify key studies.

Backward citation searching finds older publications. Forward citation searching finds more recent publications.

Cited references - backward citation searching

When you search for cited references, you are moving backward in time, examining the reference list and finding articles that may have been missed by database searches - also known as 'backward citation searching'.

When undertaking a systematic or scoping review it is important that you identify key articles and examine their reference lists to identify relevant literature. You will need to record details of these key articles and the relevant references you find.

Citing references - forward citation searching

When you search for citing references, you are moving forward in time, examining all the articles that are citing the article you are looking at - also known as 'forward citation searching'.

Databases such as Scopus and Web of Science are good starting points to look for citing references. Google Scholar is another source, but requires additional evaluation as this collection is not curated according to transparent quality criteria. Other databases allow citing references, including MEDLINE, Embase, and PsycInfo.

How to follow citations in databases

Following citations in Scopus
  1. Search for your article title.
  2. Open the article record in Scopus to view who has cited it (Cited by) and the reference list (View references).

Example Scopus record with cited and citing reference links highlighted









Note: Not all articles will include cited by counts. Recently published articles may not have been cited yet.
Following citations in Web of Science
  1. Search for your article title.
  2. Follow the Citations link to view who has cited the article and the References link to view the reference list .

Example Web of Science record with cited and citing references highlighted

Following citations in Google Scholar
  1. Search for your article title.
  2. Select Cited by to see who has cited the article. Open the article to view the reference list.

Example Google Scholar record with cited and citing references highlighted

Guidelines and standards

'If reference lists were examined, specify the types of references examined (such as references cited in study reports included in the systematic review, or references cited in systematic review reports on the same or a similar topic).'

'If cited or citing reference searches (also called backwards and forward citation searching) were conducted, specify the bibliographic details of the reports to which citation searching was applied, the citation index or platform used (such as Web of Science), and the date the citation searching was done.'

- PRISMA 2020 Explanation and Elaboration, p. 6