There is a research Paper Y which presents some experimental result. The author has cited Paper X to justify and explain the reason of that result. I am writing a review paper and included the result of Paper Y.

Can I cite Paper X in the review paper to give the justification of the result by Paper Y as already done by the Paper Y itself? Or will it be somehow called mindless copying from Paper Y? And should I cite Paper Y also (along with X) while including the correlation between result (Y) and the reason (X) as the author of Y was the first to correlate the two?


I will use 'Johnson (2016)' and 'Smith (2015)' rather than 'Y' and 'X' in my examples:

  • Explicitly corroborating Smith's (2015) hypothesis that mice love cheese, Johnson (2016) demonstrated that mice ate cheese rather than carrots, when offered both.

  • Smith (2015) argued that mice love cheese. Johnson (2016), citing Smith, experimentally verified this hypothesis.

  • Johnson (2016) interpreted her experimental results using Smith's (2015) conjecture that mice love cheese.

If you want to be critical rather than 'mindless' about Johnson's interpretation of the result, just offer alternative interpretations (with additional citations). However, if the original interpretation is plausible, and if the issue is not the focus of your paper, it's okay just to follow Johnson (and thereby Smith).

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    What about succinct "Mice were found to eat cheese (Smith, 2015; Johnson, 2016)"? – Oleg Lobachev Jun 3 '18 at 12:22
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    @Lobachev, sure. However, I thought OP wanted to emphasize specifically that Johnson had an experimental result and used Smith's theory to interpret it. – henning Jun 3 '18 at 12:43

If you restate the ideas from Y about X without making it clear that is what you are doing, then it is not mindless copying but plagiarism. If you need the ideas, make it clear where they come from.

A short explanation of the relationship between X and Y will not be a problem, and indeed is possibly necessary.

If you want to add a longer discussion of what X says about Y, you should make sure this plays an integral part in the 'story' in your review, and you should give enough details for your work to be basically stand-alone. If you just reproduce ideas that could otherwise be left out, that might reasonably be considered mindless copying, and you should instead direct the reader to Y instead.

In any case, make sure you check X to see if Y is reporting on it accurately. It is not unheard of for one paper to incorrectly use another.

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    "In any case, make sure you check X to see if Y is reporting on it accurately. It is not unheard of for one paper to incorrectly use another." I strongly agree with this. Secondary citations should be avoided as much as possible. An author may misquote something, use it in the wrong context, or interpret it incorrectly. – Eggy Jun 3 '18 at 15:50

You can write: "In paper [y], [x] was cited to justify their results [optionally: by the following line of arguments: ...]". If you want to elaborate more on the content of [x], you should do that in your own words.

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