About Research & Assessment:
Seminal Works

What is a seminal work?

Some papers are of central importance to a research topic, often because they report a major breakthrough, insight, or a new and generative synthesis of ideas.  This kind of paper may describe a study that changes our understanding of a topic, or describes and illustrates a new and highly useful research method.  These kinds of articles are often referred to as seminal or classic papers.  They form the "canon" of works important to a topic.  When writing a literature review on a topic, it is essential that you include any relevant seminal or classic papers.
Another definition of a seminal work:

"The model begins with a new theory published in a research paper. If the scholarly community comes to accept the validity of the new theory this paper is considered a seminal paper. This seminal paper influences the scholarly community’s thinking and ultimately, the body of knowledge. The seminal paper stimulates the writing of other scholarly papers. Last, the novel thinking, expressed in the seminal paper and subsequent scholarly papers, is organized into new patterns of thinking which can be recorded in subject heading schemes and then applied to the subject indexing of newly published scholarly papers".  (Lussky, 2004, pp. 4-5)

How do you find seminal works?
Because seminal works are often the founding or central publication in a research area, they are cited in most research papers that are working in that research area. 

As you perform literature searches on a topic and read the papers, you will likely see these papers cited over and over again in research papers and review articles. 
In fact, authors may refer to a specific work as "seminal" or "influential" or "core" or "classic" or describe the work in some way that indicates its central importance to a body of research.  Another tool for locating or identifying seminal works is citation analysis which is a tool that can help identify papers that are cited many times in the literature.  We will discuss citation analysis in the next unit.

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