Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Citations and Their Power

Citations and Their Power
It is important to cite your sources for a couple of important reasons: to avoid plagiarism, and to let others know where you found the source of your information. But in addition to this, well done citations are an important tool in the hands of a researcher. To see how they can work, let's take a hypothetical situation. Say you are interested in researching the topic "fascist ideology in Italy" and you find an article that is exactly what you want. The problem is, it's from 1978.

From your article, you can look at the author's list of citations and find books and articles, but of course, those will all be from before 1978. You can guess that there are probably other materials that have been written in the meantime. How can you find those? Wouldn't it be great if citations worked not only in the past, but in the future as well? That is, wouldn't it be great to know the papers and books that cited your article after 1978?

There is such a tool, and it's called a citation index. They are relative latecomers to bibliography and the first scholarly one (The Science citation index) was not published until 1963. Since that time, there have been many other citation indexes created. Unfortunately, AUR does not have access to any citation indexes. But, there are new tools that index citations: the search engines such as Google, and its spinoff: Google Scholar. It's important to realize that Google's power comes from citations. How does this work?

Google works by weighing those websites with many links/citations to them more heavily (that is, it places the sites cited by others toward the top). The idea seems reasonable: an item that is cited more heavily would be better and more important, but this is often not the case. People work together and agree to place reciprocal links on their own pages. Companies will pay owners of websites to place links to the companies' sites. They will do almost anything to get to be number 1 in Google! It's life or death for a business: whoever is number 50,000 in Google may as well not even be in there. For more information, you can read How Google Works at

Google Scholar works similarly to Google, but it is aimed at scholarly literature. You can search Google Scholar to get a list of articles and books, e.g. Lega Nord. If you scroll down, you will see a book cited: The New Politics of the Right: Neo-Populist Parties and Movements in Established Democracies.
You can click on this link and see part of the book, but you can also see where this book has been cited later, in this case: 2002 in the article Does Left/Right Structure Party Positions on European Integration? in Comparative Political Studies.
You can click on this link, but many times it will say that they want you to spend money for the article. This is where you can search something else.

Journal List
To see if you can get the article, copy the name of the journal (Comparative Political Studies) go back to the AUR catalog and click on Journals on the left side under the College of Staten Island logo.

This will open a list of all of the journals that we have access to. When it opens, paste in the name of the journal and you will find out if we have access to this journal and what the coverage is.
In this case, we have it going from 1968 to the present and therefore, you can see this article.

This is the main way to work with citations: find a book or article, then find who else cited those articles later. Do the same with the citations you find in these books and articles, find where they have been cited and so on and so on. Most of the time, you'll find plenty of material.

Why is This So Difficult?
Can this be made easier? Yes, but it already is easier than it used to be when everything was in paper. Just this little search that we demonstrated would probably have taken a few hours 20 years ago.

But we are trying to make it even easier.