Using Your First Search Results to Improve Your Next Search

Sometimes your first attempt at a search will bring up only a few articles that meet your needs.

Citation Chaining is a technique that helps you find articles that are similar to the best ones from your first batch of search results. Chaining means gathering keywords that you find in the title, abstract and full text of your best search results, then going back and doing another search that incorporates those new keywords.

For example, if you searched for horses AND evolution you might get an article titled “Speciation Among Equines During the Ice Age.”  Then you could try your search again, using the alternate keywords found in that title, as (horses OR equines) AND (evolution OR speciation).

“Following the Citation Trail” involves looking at the footnotes and bibliography of an article and noting what sources the author cited. The author cited certain sources because those sources provided information relevant to the article topic, so those sources are probably relevant to your topic, too. Search for the author names and titles you found in your sources’ citations. Remember to search for the article title (not the journal title) and to enclose the whole title in quotation marks.


  • Look for an Advanced Search option. This feature usually offers a menu that lets you specify which fields (article title, author’s name, etc.) to search for your keywords.
  • Search for titles and names in quotation marks to get an exact match.
  • If you do not get a result for an author’s name, try searching it in different formats. For example, normal (Frieda Kahlo), first initial (F Kahlo) or inverse order (Kahlo, Frieda.) In some cases you may have to take into account cultural factors that might result in variations in how a name is written, such as spelling variations when a foreign name is translated, middle names and initials, cultures that put the family name first, women who change their names with their marital status, etc.

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