Secondary Sources


Posted October 11, 2017

Using secondary sources should be kept to a minimum in scholarly writing, but it is first important to understand and recognize what a secondary source is. A secondary source is a source found quoted or referenced in another source. For example, if you are reading a research article by Smith (2014) and Smith quotes or refers to information previously published by Jenkins (2006), referring to Jenkins in your own work would be considered a secondary source—i.e., you are not citing Jenkin’s original research, but rather Smith’s reference to Jenkin’s research.

Writers should avoid citing secondary sources for a variety of reasons. For one, if the original source is easy to access or find, then citing another source to refer to the original may be a sign of laziness to readers. Citing the original source shows that you, the researcher, are heavily invested in and knowledgeable of the main research in your field. Reading the full, original source may reveal additional insight, information, or context. Last, exhausting the sources pertaining to your topic will make you a more informed, credible researcher in your field.

However, there are some instances when the original source is unable to be found or accessed. For example, the source may be out-of-print, is a personal correspondence, or is not available in English. In such cases, follow the APA guideline for citing secondary sources:

In text Citation

Jenkins (as cited in Smith, 2014) stated . . .

Reference List

Smith, A. B. (2014). Title of article. Journal Name, 1(2) 3–4.

In the reference list entry, you want to cite the actual source that you accessed (such as Smith, 2014), not the one you are referring to as a secondary source. For more information on secondary author nicolesources, refer to page 175 of the APA manual (6th edition). The general takeaway, however, is to use secondary sources sparingly.


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