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A guide compiling resources to support education-related research at UCI. This guide focuses on the U.S. education system.

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What is Seminal Literature?

Seminal works, sometimes called pivotal or landmark studies, are articles that initially presented an idea of great importance or influence within a particular discipline. These articles had a significant impact on how the scholarly conversation on the topic has developed. Seminal 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 Seminal Articles

Identifying seminal 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. It is important to keep in mind that seminal studies may have been published quite some time ago. To avoid overlooking pivotal research that may have occurred in years past, it is recommend that you do not use a date limiter.

Finding Seminal Scholarship

Although identification of seminal research will occur as you progress in your research, there are additional resources that may be used to help you visualize the development of research over time, and to identify possible seminal works. These resources and search techniques are described below. You may want to look at some of the sources on the Reference Resources tab as well.

Oxford Bibliographies

You can use Oxford Bibliographies: Education to look up various topics and find a brief overview and list of seminal scholarship on that topic.


If you are interested in topics outside the realm of education, you can look at the subject list or search across all the Oxford Bibliographies we subscribe to.

Sage Navigator

Sage Navigator is a system within the Sage Knowledge database. Sage describes it as a "social sciences literature review tool." You can search your key concept, and the entry will provide an extensive overview (with references) and a list of "Key Readings." Entries tend to be broad, so if you are looking for a topic such as "the influence of bedtime stories on language development," you may need to try searching a broader topic such as "early childhood literacy" and look for subsections that might address your specific topic.

An alternative way to search: If you are in Sage Knowledge, you can expand the "Search all content" menu and select "Major Works."

Web of Science

Web of Science is a global citation database with numerous ways to discover seminall research. After you enter your search terms, you can:

  • Sort the results by highest citations;
  • Select the "Highly Cited Papers" filter on the Refine Results menu;
  • Select the "Citation Report" button to view information a chart of how frequently each piece was cited each year;
  • Select the "Analyze Results" button to see a visualization of which disciplines are discussing the topic.


Google Scholar

Google Scholar can be useful for finding seminal literature in a few different ways. You can conduct topic search or search a specific article title and note the "Cited By" link under the citation.

Dissertations & Theses

Not only can dissertations provide a model for writing your own dissertation, but they can also be a potential source for finding seminal literature. If you find a recent dissertation on your topic, you can search within the document for words like "seminal" or "pivotal." You can also read the literature review to see how the author positions certain pieces of scholarship or puts scholars in conversation with each other. Scanning the reference list to see if certain works catch your eye can also help.