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Academic Research Guide

Find the information you need for papers, projects and life

What is a foundational work?

Foundational works, sometimes called pivotal or landmark studies, are articles that initially presented an idea of great importance or influence within a particular discipline. Foundational 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 foundatinoal 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. Keep in mind that seminal studies may have been published quite some time ago, so it is best to not limit your search results by date.

Additional resources that may help you to identify possible foundational works are described below.

Resources to find foundational works

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is an easy way to search for scholarly literature. Search results include articles from Belk Library databases, Google Books, Open Educational Resources, and more.

Google Scholar identifies how many times a particular source has been cited, displayed beneath the abstract after "Cited by." A high number of citing sources could signal a seminal work.

Google Scholar Search

Web of Science

Citation analysis tools in the Web of Science database provide access to current and retrospective citation information, author abstracts, and cited references from thousands of the world's leading journals across a wide variety of disciplines.

On the Web of Science home page, first enter your search terms (and refine them as needed). On the results screen, use "Times Cited" at the top of the list. A large number of times cited will likely indicate that the article is a seminal study. 

What is a Primary Sources?

Courtesy William H. Hannon Library