One of the “advanced” search tips we suggest during library instruction sessions is to identify the expert or key authors in a field, and see what they’ve written.  But what if you don’t know who these people are?

Fear not: this is a process that comes naturally once you’ve started your research.  How can you expect to recognize people’s names as important when you’re completely unfamiliar with a topic? We have some tips for you below.

1. Keep track of authors while you research

This may mean writing a list on a piece of paper, using Zotero or Mendeley to organize your research, saving PDF’s by the name of the author, etc.  Just find a system that works for you.

2. Read the ‘extra info’

As you read textbooks and search for articles, the same names will start to appear. But don’t stop there – you can also check bibliographies to see which names are frequently cited.

If you want to take things a step further, try looking for literature reviews. A literature review is an overview of what has been published on a given topic by credible scholars. They’re a great resource because they give you a summary of the main ideas, theories, and concepts concerning a given topic, and tend to focus specifically on different scholars’ contributions to the academic literature. A quick scan of the bibliography for a literature review can be immensely helpful for your research.

Once you have a list of two or three authors, search for these authors in different databases to see what else they’ve written.  You can also Google them, as authors often have homepages (with complete bibliographies) from their home institution.

3. ‘Zero in’ on potential specializations

Keep in mind that certain areas of any given discipline tend to be researched or written about by different scholars. For example: if you’re an English student, you might find subject experts on geographical regions of literature like Canadian or American literature, or experts on certain individuals like John Milton or Toni Morrison. You’re less likely to find scholars writing across multiple subject specialties.

Note: this blog post was originally written by Heather Campbell in 2011. It was updated and rewritten in 2018.