Do any of the academic search engines provide a way to limit a free text search to just those papers which are cited by a particular paper? In normal google, as an analogy, you can append site:bbc.co.uk to your search string to only get results from the bbc.co.uk web site. I have checked the Google Scholar advanced search settings and there is no such facility.

My motivation for this question is that I am trying to track down a definition to where it has either a) been first used, and/or b) defined in the fullest terms.

  • I do not have a working answer, but in principle, this could be done in two steps: first get a tool that exports a list of all an article's citations (I think Scopus or Web of Science might do this); second, find a tool that searches full text only within a list of specified articles, that is, the list of articles you feed it from the first step. Unfortunately, I do not know any tool that does the second step. If someone does, then you might have your answer.
    – Tripartio
    May 21, 2021 at 8:41
  • @Tripartio - thank you for all the great suggestions. I wonder if this is something someone's already implemented in something like Zotero
    – Felix U
    May 23, 2021 at 13:31

2 Answers 2


I do not know of a tool with such functionality built in, but with automation (using a tool like iMacros or Selenium), you might be able to obtain the result you seek. (Unfortunately, it is beyond the scope of my answer to explain how to use such a tool, so I understand that my answer might not be useful if you do not already have such skills and are unwilling to learn them.) The procedure might be something like this:

  • Navigate to a web page with the full list of references of the article whose references you want to search. This should be in a full text database like EBSCO, ProQuest, etc.
  • For each listed reference, use the automation tool to copy the title, authors and date of the reference.
  • Use the automation tool to search for the referenced article in the database. If you enclose the title in quotation marks, the first article that comes up should usually be the referenced article that you want. But you should use the automation tool to record the full citation details of this first article so that you can manually verify later that it is indeed the article that you wanted. (This latter step is important!)
  • Use the automation tool to click on the first article that comes up, then search for the words you are looking for.
  • Use the automation tool to save whatever results you want.
  • Finally, double check the list of full citation details of the articles that the automation tool actually searched on (that is, the first one that came up for each search) to make sure that they are the correct articles you intended from the references list. Whenver you found that the automation tool guessed wrong, then manually search for those articles.

Again, this answer only helps if you know or are willing to learn automation tools. (If you do choose to learn a tool just for this project, you will probably find that it opens new opportunities for lots of projects in the future, so it might be worth your time.)


In a separate answer, I proposed learning an automation tool like iMacros or Selenium to help you. If you do not have the time or will to learn such a tool, but you have a modest budget for your research project, another option would be doing the same procedure but instead paying a human to do the "automation" for you. A good site that I have used to successfully recruit such people is Fiverr (search on "research assistant"). As long as you give very clear instructions, you can get quick, decent results. However, I sometimes hire two independent assistants to do the same task so that I can use each to double check the quality of work done.

  • Wow, that's a very interesting approach! I think our university librarians are quite happy to help in subject-specific literature searches, e.g. for tracking down tricky references, etc, but your kind of outsourcing is fascinating.
    – Felix U
    May 23, 2021 at 13:26

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