Just as you follow links on the web, follow lists of works cited in the articles and books you read. Think of scholarship as a conversation and citations as the thread of that conversation. A number of subscription databases allow you to track the flow of research by including ways to identify references that cite or are cited by other scholarly sources. This is a quick, although perhaps not comprehensive, way to gauge the impact of individual publications.
There are two strategies to following citations.
1. Backward citation searching
Looking at the list of all sources cited by an author is called 'backward citation searching'. It provides a snapshot of the thinking and research available at the time the research was published. It tells you what sources, ideas, theories have shaped and influenced a researcher.
2. Forward citation searching
Finding out whether an article was cited by authors after its publication will help you assess the importance of that article and how it has shaped subsequent research and scholarship. This is called 'forward citation searching.'