How can you tell if an article has been cited by someone else?

Sometimes it’s nice to know whether you’ve chosen a “good” article.  One way to verify this information is to see if other researchers have included your articles in their own bibliographies.

There are some databases that make this process easy.  These databases are called citation indexes: basically, this means that the articles listed within the database are cross referenced to each other.

The following databases are examples of citation indexes:

  • Web of Science (good for research in most subject areas)
  • Google Scholar (surprising, I know! Just has “cited by” feature)
  • Scopus (for my science friends; psychology and economics also included)

To use this feature, just look for the “cited by” or “times cited” link in whatever database you’re using!  I’ve included a screen shot from Web of Science so you can see what I mean.


Choosing a Database (Nutrition)

Updated Summer, 2011:

Foods and Nutrition is a very interdisciplinary subject, which makes choosing a database that much more difficult.  Luckily, Western Libraries and Brescia introduced a new product called Summon over the summer of 2011 that can act as an easy starting place for interdisciplinary programs.  I recommend starting your search in Summon: you should be able to get a good foundation of articles using this product, so that choosing a database becomes your “step two.”

After consulting Summon, it’s important to review what research you already have.  Then you can move on to making a list of what information you still need (i.e. what questions do you still have to answer? What is it that you’re looking for?)  After that, you’ll need to choose a database based on the research you still need to find.  Here are some options for you:


Some of your courses are quite science-heavy (i.e. Food Science, Clinical Nutrition), so the following databases will be suitable for sciencey research needs:

  • PubMed (current research in medicine, nursing and health care)
  • Web of Knowledge (huge, broad science database)
  • Scopus (chemistry, math, physics, life sciences, health sciences)
  • IBIDS (stuff on dietary supplements, vitamins and botanicals here)
  • CINAHL (health sciences and medicine)

Social Science

A lot of your assignments will have a more social science angle (i.e. you might have to look at people’s motivations or behaviour), especially in classes like community nutrition.  For these types of research questions, you can try the following:

  • Web of Knowledge (again, huge broad database with lots of social science information, too)
  • Scopus (also good for social science)
  • ProQuest Research Library (another super huge database – has information on almost everything)

Other Databases

  • ERIC (for education information, if you’re doing a project on community nutrition)
  • PsycINFO (for psychology information, like if you need motivation or behaviour information)

Google Scholar: A Credible Database?

Over the last few years, the usefulness of Google Scholar has really improved.  I used it when updating a literature review recently (I’m cool, I know) and was pleased with how easy it was to use.  I did find credible resources during this process, too.

But, is it as credible as other databases?  Unfortunately it’s not that simple: Google Scholar’s purpose and function are just different from other databases.  Google Scholar intends to be a place for researchers to start.  As their “About” page says: Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature.

The way Google Scholar indexes or collects its information is different from other databases, too.  “Scholarly” databases usually index articles on specific disciplines or  topics, with certain journals being included on purpose.  Basically, they’re created by people.  Google Scholar, like regular Google, is created by a computer: Google’s “robots” scan different webpages for scholarly material, with less care going into the journals that publish these articles.

What you’re probably looking for is a straight answer.  If I had to give you one, I’d say go ahead and use Google Scholar.  It can be helpful when you’re starting the research process on a topic, it finds credible journal articles, and it often turns up stuff you wouldn’t find elsewhere.  Make sure to use it, though, in combination with other subject-specific databases.

One more thing: if you’re wondering whether you should use Google Scholar over Summon, I would recommend sticking with Summon.  While Google Scholar has great benefits, Summon will only bring up articles that you have access to.  This means you won’t have to do as much poking around to find the full-text of articles as you would with Google Scholar.

For more information, I’ve put together a pros and cons list for Google Scholar.


  • Only credible, scholarly material is included in Google Scholar, according to the inclusion criteria: “content such as news or magazine articles, book reviews, and editorials is not appropriate for Google Scholar.”  Technical reports, conference presentations, and journal articles are included, as are links to Google Books.
  • This database is a citation index, meaning you can search the number of times an article has been cited by other people.  This is a function of many credible databases.
  • Google Scholar is interdisciplinary, meaning you are searching a huge range of topics all at once.  You get different search results this way than you’d find in traditional databases, as a result.
  • You can find A LOT more material using Google Scholar than some other databases (not all).
  • It’s easy to use because it’s familiar.


  • It rarely finds all of the reliable material that “scholarly” databases do, and it sometimes misses really important articles: studies comparing Google Scholar with PsycINFO, PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, and more found that Google Scholar was unable to produce all of the articles listed in the scholarly databases.  This means you can’t rely on Google Scholar alone.
  • Computer errors are more common with Google Scholar because it isn’t maintained by people: broken links, repetitive results, and other issues are more likely with this database than others.
  • It still says “beta” even though it’s been on the market for years.  This is odd, and potentially indicates that Google Inc. realizes there are problems with the product.
  • It may not offer any more benefits than Summon does, through Brescia and Western Libraries.

Sources: Google Scholar Bibliography.

What, precisely, is a database? What do they have to do with journals?

Databases, in my opinion, cause the most headaches for Brescia’s students.  This is largely because their function is confusing and their purpose unknown to novice researchers.  I will try my best to sum up a ridiculously complicated system in a simple way:

  1. Journals, like magazines, are collections of articles that are published periodically throughout the year (hence the word “periodicals,” which you might have heard).  Most of these journals require a subscription, much like other magazines like Macleans or People.  Journals  can be published either in print (like a magazine) or online – many are available in both formats.
  2. Western Libraries, along with the affiliate colleges, subscribe to literally thousands of journals.  Each of these can publish anywhere from 5 to 20 articles each issue.  Keeping track of every single article, therefore, is a difficult task.
  3. Instead of listing each individual journal article in our Shared Library Catalogue, we rely on databases to do this for us.  This means that, in simple terms, databases are big lists of journal articles and other periodicals.  Databases are not part of Western’s website, but are separate companies that we pay to provide these lists of journals.
  4. Because there are just so many journals available, databases are usually organized by subject.  Psychology journals, for example, are often found in a database called PsycINFO.  (There are multidisciplinary databases, though.  ProQuest Research Library, Web of Knowledge and Scholars Portal are the names of some very broad databases that house articles in many different subject areas).
  5. The same journal title might be indexed (or listed) in more than one database.  This means that if you look for articles first in PsycINFO and then in ProQuest, some of the same article titles may appear.
  6. Here’s where it gets tricky: we use databases to search for what articles are available on a topic.  For example, if I choose PsycINFO, I can research topics related to psychology and get a list of journals that exist.  It is not guaranteed, though, that PsycINFO will provide the online version of the journal article.  As we have learned, there are many reasons for this: Western may not subscribe to this journal at all; we may pay for a different database to provide full-text access, or; we may only get the journal in print.

To sum up: rely on databases for telling you how many articles, if any, is available on your topic.  To actually find these articles, you will want to use the Shared Library Catalogue: this will tell you which journals we subscribe to and how to find them.  For more help, see the blog post: “How do you find full text articles?