I'm starting work on writing my Master thesis in computer science (after doing a lot of experimentation last semester.) I want to give some background on neural networks relevant to my work. By reading various papers I have found there are several foundational papers (say paper A) in the field that I would like to cite and include. I understand that I should read and cite the primary source regardless of where I found it. However, some of the papers (say paper B) that reference it give background/context on the paper (and even authors) I would also like to include. Should I cite paper B for points like the relevance of the paper, the backgrounds of the authors, and comparison to future work / other papers?


1 Answer 1


I actually disagree that you should always cite the original source for exactly the reasons you give. Each subsequent paper provides additional context that can help the reader understand the importance of an idea. But it should be clear to a reader who originated the idea even if you cite a later work. "Master Kwan originated the idea of ... as is explicated in the later work of her disciple Master Kuo in as found in ...".

Just make it clear that you don't attribute Kwan's ideas to Kuo, similarly to not attributing the work of others to yourself. And the above assumes that Kuo has properly cited Kwan so the chain is intact.

A Masters thesis, however, could have an extensive bibliography and could even organize it by ideas rather than simply alphabetically or chronologically. Then, there is no real need to choose. So, in the body of the text you could cite original sources, but say elsewhere that the bibliography contains later important sources that explain ramifications of the original. That might be too much for a paper that has severe page limits, but not for a thesis.

  • Thanks for your input! I guess part of my issue is that the secondary source isn't really building on the primary source on it directly so much as giving background. The same background that I would find in a number of other papers. Is that sort of background/context something that I need an in-text citation for the papers I'm learning it from?
    – user92368
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 1:49
  • I am planning on having both papers in my bibliography
    – user92368
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 1:55

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