Seminal works, sometimes called pivotal or landmark studies, are articles that initially presented an idea of great importance or influence within a particular discipline. Seminal articles are referred to time and time again in the research, so you are likely to see these sources frequently cited in other journal articles, books, dissertations, etc.
Identifying seminal articles relies heavily on your own thoroughness in the examination and synthesis of the scholarly literature. Typically, there will not be any explicit labels placed on articles, identifying them as seminal. Rather, you will begin to see the same authors or articles cited frequently. It is important to keep in mind that seminal studies may have been published quite some time ago. Limiting a database search to only the past 5 years, for example, may exclude seminal studies from your results. To avoid overlooking pivotal research that may have occurred in years past, it is recommend that you do not use a date limiter.
Although identification of seminal research will occur as you progress in your research, there are additional resources that may be used to help you visualize the development of research over time, and to identify possible seminal works. These resources and search techniques are described below.
For additional guidance, view the Finding Seminal Research Workshop below.
This workshop provides an introduction to resources which can be used to locate seminal works for a particular discipline. Learn how to locate pivotal studies using SAGE Navigator, Web of Knowledge, and additional Library and online resources.
SAGE Navigator is a social sciences literature review tool, designed to help graduate and doctoral students at the start of the literature review process. This database provides an extensive overview of nearly 300 social science topics (including business, education, and psychology) written by SAGE editors and renowned academics.
To access SAGE Navigator, go to the Library’s home page and click on Research Resources – A-Z Databases. Scroll down and select the link for SAGE Navigator.
In addition to providing topic overviews, SAGE Navigator allows you to browse a list of between 60-120 recommended readings from the key literature, including journal articles, book chapters and more. These sources have been hand-selected by experts in their field, saving you valuable time in identifying seminal research.
To access Key Readings, browse or search SAGE Navigator to locate a Major Work related to your research topic. Once you have selected a title, click on the Key Readings tab, as shown below.
Key readings will default to a list in the form of a Table of Contents, as shown below. However, you can change this to view the readings by Title or Publication Date. Click on the key reading title in order to view an abstract or excerpt, or to link out to the full text where available.
Also included on the Key Readings tab, is the SAGE Knowledge interactive chronology tool. This lets you visualize how the research has developed over time. Each dot on the chronology represents one seminal work, which you may hover over for more details. Look at the groups of colored dots to identify patterns in the research. Are some subtopics more heavily studied than others? Has research in this area peaked several years ago and has since died down?
In the example below, we see that research in Online Learning has remained pretty consistent since the year 2000. However, research focused on New and Emerging Technologies seemed to gain the most momentum in 2005.
For additional instruction on SAGE Navigator, see the following:
Another quick way to find seminal papers is to use citation analysis tools available in Web of Knowledge. Web of Knowledge provides access to current and retrospective bibliographic information, author abstracts, and cited references from 3,000 of the world's leading social sciences journals across 50 disciplines.
To access Web of Knowledge, go to the Library’s home page and click on Research Resources – A-Z Databases. Scroll down and select the link for Web of Knowledge.
On the Web of Knowledge home page, first execute your search and refine it until you get the search results that reflect your topic. On the results screen, you will see Times Cited at the top of the list, as shown below. A large number of times cited will likely indicate that the article is a seminal study.
The Web of Knowledge citation report tool may also prove helpful when identifying seminal research. The citation report tracks an article’s cited and citing references, allowing you to go forward and backward in time to visually discover an article’s wider relationships.
To access the citation report feature, first choose and click on one of the hyperlinked titles in your results list to access its full record. Next, click on the link that states the number of citations within the database searched. In the example below, the user would click on the link, '142 in All Databases.'
Next, click on Create Citation Report within the results that appear.
This will generate a Citation Report using all the citations within the list.
Within the citation report, you can run more detailed analytics that provide data based on author, year, journal title, subject category, and more. The citation report and analytics can be useful for a number of reasons including seeing the impact your original article has over diverse multidisciplinary subject fields, to see how widespread a paper has been distributed and read, and to see which institutions cited and were cited by the original article.
In the analytics below, for example, we have chosen to visualize by author. If you see an author name over and over again on the treemap, this may indicate that the author may have produced seminal research, and is certainly worth investigating.
For additional instruction on Web of Knowledge, see the following:
Google Scholar allows you to search across many disciplines and types of scholarly sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Link Google Scholar to the Library to find full text articles, when available. Click here for details.
Like Web of Knowledge and Microsoft Academic Search, Google Scholar also identifies how many times a particular source has been cited. This will be displayed beneath the abstract/excerpt or bibliographic information, as shown below. Again, a high number of citing sources could signal a seminal work.
For additional assistance, see the following:
Perhaps one of the best ways to find seminal research for your dissertation is to review other students’ dissertations on the same or related topic. Read through the literature review sections see what authors/articles were considered important enough to include.
ProQuest Dissertations & Theses provides access to over 1 million full-text dissertations from hundreds of different universities. To access ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, go to the Library’s home page and click on Research Resources – Dissertation Resources. Next, select the link for ProQuest Dissertations & Theses.
Using the Advanced search screen, you may easily locate dissertations by Title, Author, Keyword, Subject, etc. Click on Full text – PDF in order to view the full document and begin reviewing for important authors and sources.
For additional assistance, see the following:
Because books are typically much more comprehensive than scholarly articles and dissertations, they often present a thorough overview of a particular discipline. Books are likely to identify prominent researchers in the field, and to describe key concepts and theories, or history and evolution of the field. Therefore, books may be a great place to find references to seminal research. Look for chapters on background or history or theories, etc.; although, often times these elements are simply integrated into other chapters. Also, take a look at the references which may be included at the end of individual chapters, or at the end of the book.
As an example, the following Ebook Central book, Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student-Engaged Assessment, clearly identifies Rick Stiggins as a seminal researcher in the area of student-engaged assessment. Review the chapter or book references list to find the full article citations referencing his work.
Finally, searching online may be a possible way to identify seminal research in your topic area. For example, try entering phrases such as landmark studies psychology or influential studies psychology or seminal research psychology into Google, or another search engine, as shown below.
Keep in mind, however, that information retrieved from the open web should be more heavily scrutinized than information you might find in vetted library databases. In other words, do not assume that a study is pivotal simply because you found somebody’s blog post stating such. Has that article been heavily cited? Does it present a unique perspective, new idea, or breakthrough conclusion? Has it influenced other research that followed?
For additional information about evaluating online sources, please see the Website Evaluation page.