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Finding Seminal Research: Welcome

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Why Look for Seminal Works?

Seminal works, sometimes called pivotal or landmark studies, are the initial pieces that presented an important or influential idea within a particular discipline. These articles are referred to (referenced) repeatedly in the literature, so you're likely to see the citations again and again. 

There is not single strategy for finding seminal articles, but rather any strategy relies on a thorough examination and synthesis of the literature. Don't expect to see a "seminal article" label, rather you'll start seeing the same author and title frequently. Tip: remember that seminal articles may have been published a long time ago, so don't set a date range limited when you search for them.

In this guide you'll find a combination of resources and search strategies to help you with the process.


A quick way to find seminal papers is to use citation analysis tools in Scopus, one of the databases available through the Library. Once you have search results in Scopus, you can reorder your results to Cited by (highest). A large number of times cited is a good indicator that the article may be a seminal study.

Scopus search results, cited by (highest) circled

Searching in Google Scholar is cross-disciplinary and cross-format: articles, theses, books, abstracts and more from a variety of publishers and subjects will be included in your search results. Make sure you've connected Google Scholar to the MCPHS Library to get the most out of this tool. 

Similar to Scopus, Google Scholar shows you how many times a sources has been cited since it was published. This number is directly below the abstract/excerpt on the search results page. Again, a high "cited by" number indicates the source may be a seminal work.

Google Scholar, cited by circled

An excellent way to find seminal research is to look at other students' dissertations on the same/related topics. Focus on reading the literature review sections to see the articles and authors they considered important enough to include.

There are several ways to find dissertations and theses, and we recommend that you follow the link about to our step-by-step guide for navigating this particular type of literature. 

Dissertation with old citations highlighted

Academic books on a specific topic are typically more comprehensive and in-depth than an article or dissertation can be; they'll often include a overview of the discipline as context for their work. A book is likely to identify prominent researchers, define key concepts and theories, and some of the history/evolution of the field. Look for chapters on background, history, or theories (if you don't see them they may be integrated into other chapters). Also, check the references at the end of each chapter and/or the end of the book. If you've already identified some key names or theories check for them in the index at the back.

Finally, searching online is another way to identify seminal research in your topic. For example, in Google (or another search engine) try combinations like:
landmark studies health disparities 
influential studies health disparities
seminal research health disparities

Remember to evaluate your search results, especially when it comes to something like determining if a work is seminal - you'll want to find a few different sources to support this claim. For example: the article appears in a Google results and is heavily cited according to Scopus. Or, it's cited by a dissertation and your textbook. There's not perfect combination, but if the article really is foundational to the field it should pop up in multiple places and seem familiar.

Google results of landmark studies health disparities

Recorded Workshop: Finding Seminal Research

This is a recorded workshop from Northcentral University Library (now known as National University) on how to find seminal research. While MCPHS does not currently subscribe to the first resource, the rest of the strategies are universally useful.

Thanks to the Northcentral University Library Guide on the Research Process

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