Citation searching, also known as cited reference searching or citation tracking, is helpful when you have a representative journal article on your subject of interest. Using this representative journal article, you can search forward in time -- find newer articles that have cited the representative one and use the newer article's bibliographies to find even more literature on the topic.
Citation searching also enables you to see the relative impact of the representative work -- you can see how many times it has been cited by others.
Often, researchers wish to know the number of citations their publications receive for their tenure and/or promotion packages.
The idea of citation searching was developed by Eugene Garfield in the early 1960’s:
Garfield argued that it is cheaper to use a citation index rather than have a specialized indexer spend the time and energy applying terms. He felt this ran up the cost of the database.
Citation indexing uses the authors’ citation in place of the indexers’ judgments. For Garfield, he felt that good quality research would have good quality bibliographies; thus, citation quality is high.
Garfield saw this as having two parts: 1. productivity which has to do with finding the largest number of papers, and 2. efficiency which has to do with minimizing the number of irrelevant papers.
He worked from the idea that the greater the bibliography, the greater the indexing depth or the more descriptive the record. For instance, a bibliography with 15 citations has in his mind 15 terms. An indexer isn’t likely to take the time to apply 15 subject terms. In terms of efficiency, avoiding what he considered problems of semantics—dynamic nature of language, use of standardized subjects—both of which make the process more complicated, less efficient, and less productive for the user.