When I cite papers in my work I always try to go to the original source of the information I can find. However, I noticed that sometimes authors just cite handbook/textbook in the field even though the information in handbook/textbook still refers to primary sources. One one hand I feel that one should always try to give credit to the original authors but I am tempted to just start referring to handbooks/textbooks more often as it saves my work. This being said, I am mainly concerned that citing the handbook could be perceived as lazy or lower the quality of the work.

So my question is if such practice is in general considered or perceived by referees or other authorities in academia as lazy or indication of low quality or should handbooks be cited only when they are primary sources?

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    It seems to me that, by the time information is in a textbook, it's no longer so important to cite the original source, and it becomes more important to give the reader an accessible, up-to-date reference. (My opinion would be different if the original discoverer has been unjustly denied proper credit in the past.) Nov 30, 2019 at 23:57
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    Do not worry too much about "referees or other authorities", or about "giving credit": think about your readers! When you read an article, which types of citations are useful? How likely are you to consult the cited work? How helpful are citations for understanding the article you are reading? These considerations should guide the choice of citations. Dec 2, 2019 at 8:05

1 Answer 1


This also depends on the journal, if they do not allow to cite a handbook and the page in it due to their citation style you are refering to, then the reader has not a high chance to find it this information within several hundred pages quickly.

In general your thinking is right and my rule of thumb here would be to cite a handbook if possible and necessary only as a primary source in a research article.

I don't agree so much with the comment of @Andreas due to the time factor. The point of a research article is not to teach the reader something or give an introduction and references, but to report on scientific advances. So brevity, non-redundancy is the most important goal. A case making this/your question/situation maybe even clearer are review articles. Here I could agree with his comment, but even in review articles you will not find many references on handbook.

Another reason for this is the difficulty to get a handbook, they are very expensive in comparison to an article, so putting several handbook references in an article might make it simply impossible for a reader to understand your research/he gives up. That is not good for you and the journal.

A place where handbooks are referenced quite a lot and for good reasons are bachelor, master, PhD thesis, because everything in a thesis is often explained from the fundamentals to the new scientifc advances in a thesis.

So the criterion is not laziness, rather think about who your audience is. If you don't have a special page in my mind citing a handbook and would have to look for hours therein on your own, it's also no good argument to reference it to save your time.

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