Advanced Search Strategies

Finding Sources from Sources

Every source contains rich clues to other useful sources. It’s a treasure map that can lead you to sources you would never find by pure searching. This skill can help you discern a conversation occurring among a set of scholars or writers about your topic. Think of each good source as giving clues along two axes:

  • Forward and backward in time. If you look at a source and see in its bibliography that there are fifty references, you can do a quick scan of the titles and authors to look for other sources you might investigate. These previously cited sources give you a rough map of how the topic has been researched to that point. Similarly, you can look at the “cited by” feature within a database (or Google Scholar) to look for other sources who are continuing the conversation and cited your source.
  • Side to side across the scholarly conversation. When looking at a source you like, collect key terms, phrases, and names to find other sources that are similar. These other keywords can lead to other types of evidence and examples that offer more coverage of your topic.
Intersection of an x- and y-axis showing how one source can be part of a larger conversation about sources. On the y-axis, pointing up, you could use "cited by" to find articles referencing yours. Pointing down you could find the citations, or a map of the topic to do date. On the x-axis, you find names, types of evidence, subject headings, method or approaches, and terms and phrases that continue the conversation.

Each source is part of a larger conversation on a subject. Looking closely at a source’s keywords, headings, methods, and terms can help find other sources on similar topics. A source’s citations also give clues into past and future research.

Using Keywords and Similar Subjects

If you’re reading a scholarly article in a library database, you can make use of both the keywords (selected by the author) and the subject-terms (usually determined by the database).

Screenshot of a database search result, showing the subject terms.

Look at the subject terms in your search results to find articles on similar topics.

If you’re reading a book, you have two options. First, using the book’s call number (generally found on the side or spine of the book), find the book in the stacks. Nearby books should be on a similar subject. You can also go back to the book’s record in the library catalog. Each book is assigned at least one library subject. Click the subject to find other books with the same subject.


A database search result can take you to other books on the same subject.


Read the Bibliography

When you have finished the article, you can give the Works Cited page a once-over in order to identify any interesting readings that look useful.


Check out this tutorial from Hunter College Libraries to learn how to read information in a bibliography or works cited page (look int the left-column of the screen for instructions).

Search by Author

Academic writers often write on the same topic and publish several books or articles about the topic. Put the author’s name into a database or Google Scholar search and see what else s/he has published about the topic. The authors may have even published an update to the current study you are reading.

Things to Consider

One last tip for your research is to keep an open mind. If you are not finding good sources, don’t get discouraged. Try a different combination of keywords, synonyms, or ask your librarian or professor for help. Keep in mind that you don’t need a perfect source that aligns with your paper. You can take small bits of information from multiple sources and combine them into your own argument.