I have the following situation (I am in the humanities):

I am writing a paper. In that paper, I several times cite a particular scholar's book. Now, in that book, this scholar cites (not quotes) a particular historical primary source.

As this looked interesting to me, I traced down this primary source (a diary entry), but I found it in a source collection different from that cited by the author. Moreover, when looking at the original source, I discovered that it contains additional content not summarized by that scholar that is useful for me. So I went ahead and directly quoted the primary source (including bits not mentioned by the author) in my paper.

Now, in the footnote, I am currently just providing a reference to the original source, not to the mentioned author where I first found a reference to that source. My question is whether this is okay?

According to the Chicago Manual (my citation style) and sources on the web, my understanding is that I only need to provide an additional comment in the form of "Source X, cited/quoted in ....." if I do not actually trace down the original source. So, it seems to me that what I am doing is fine.

Still, as especially the advice on the internet is somewhat unclear and mostly jut designed to discourage citing of primary sources without having checked them, I thought I could also ask here.



If I'm understanding correctly, you are saying you read a secondary source, which led you to a primary source; then you cited material from the primary source that wasn't discussed in the secondary source; and your question is whether you need to cite the secondary source because it led you to the primary?

If so, I do not think you need to cite the secondary source. It feels polite to do so, sort of like using "via" on Twitter. But in an academic paper I do not think it is required.

  • Thanks for the reply and apologies for being unclear. The secondary source does not quote but cites and summarises part of the primary source. I directly quote the primary source. Only a part of this direct quotation overlaps with the summary of the primary source in the secondary source.
    – Polsci54
    Apr 19 '19 at 2:32
  • Sorry, my response said you do not need to cite the primary source; I meant secondary. Will edit. Apr 19 '19 at 2:35
  • Thanks! So do you think that also applies in case where there is some overlapping as explained in my comment above?
    – Polsci54
    Apr 19 '19 at 2:43
  • "...a part of this direct quotation overlaps with the summary of the primary source in the secondary source." But you also said the "secondary source does not quote". Then how does the direct quote overlap with the summary? Apr 19 '19 at 2:51
  • Well, not verbatim, but in terms of content, i.e. part of the quote I use is summarised in the secondary source in the author's own words.
    – Polsci54
    Apr 19 '19 at 2:53

You cite the source you use, so if you use the primary souce then you reference that.

If you cite both then you reference both.

You don’t cite sources you don’t actually quote.

  • Thanks! That is very helpful. I guess I was mainly wondering whether in addition to the reference to the primary source, I should also add "also cited in..." but apparently that is not necessary.
    – Polsci54
    Apr 19 '19 at 2:51
  • Think of it the other way, if someone followed a chain of 5 articles to get the primary which they then use. They don’t mention the other four.
    – Solar Mike
    Apr 19 '19 at 2:53
  • Thanks! Understood.
    – Polsci54
    Apr 19 '19 at 2:53
  • 2
    "Actually quote" is a very narrow definition of use. Is that intentional? Would it perhaps be sensible to add "or mention ideas from"? Apr 19 '19 at 5:43
  • Well, that is how I understood his reply, but yes, thinking of it, would be great if @SolarMike could clarify.
    – Polsci54
    May 5 '19 at 10:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.