The situation I am asking about goes like this: I am writing a math paper that I hope to publish, and want to use a certain math technique that I found in a paper from 2021. In that paper, the author gives credit to two other papers, one from 2011, as well as the original 1887 paper by Ernesto Pascal creating this technique in the first place. The 2011 paper cites the 1887 paper as well.

I now have three possible sources to cite this concept, with all the references readily available to me. What would be the standard practice in this case? Is it bad form to cite all three?

On the one hand, it could be more convenient for the reader to have all three references, if they want to know more about where the concept came from, instead of having to trace it back through the one reference.

On the other hand, maybe this is redundant because I am essentially citing three sources for one idea.

  • 6
    My personal preference would be to go back to original source, so go for it!
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 2:39
  • 10
    Include all the references. This is to help the reader.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 11:42
  • 4
    "... the original 1887 paper by Pascal creating this technique in the first place". If that is the famous Pascal in mathematics, then the year 1887 for an article by him sounds way off since he has been dead for over 200 years by that point. I guess it was some publication of his collected works or something, but still sounds strange to refer to "the original 1887 paper" by someone who died in the 1600s. I searched around and the book you're look at is probably amazon.com/Opuscules-Philosophiques-French-Blaise-Pascal/dp/…
    – KCd
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 19:34
  • 4
    @KCd Sorry, this is actually a different Pascal. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernesto_Pascal Commented Apr 9, 2023 at 13:08

4 Answers 4


I currently cannot imagine a situation where it is a good way not to cite the original source. Give credit to the inventors of an idea, that is simply good practice.

Concerning the newer papers, it depends on what you want to express, or if there have been adjustments to the original method that make it more powerful, for example. You can make this clear by adding a little context, so that it becomes clear to the reader why you cite the different papers for the one method. For example:

The method applied here, originally discovered by Pascal in 1887 [reference 1], was more recently adapted by [another author] to solve problem X [reference 2].

If you simply want to give a source for the method you use, and you still are using the method as published originally, there is no strict necessity to cite the newer work.

  • 24
    This is correct (+1), but one caveat: don't cite the 1887 paper unless you've actually read (the relevant part of) the 1887 paper to check that it says what the 2011 and 2021 papers claim it does. Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 11:57
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    Even if the newer papers don't add anything technically, there's another reason it may be useful to cite them (in addition to the original): they may be pedagogically better than the original, i.e. they may explain the point in a way that will be more understandable to your target audience; specifically, it seems likely here that the original paper is in French, and OP's target audience is largely English-speaking. Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 12:02
  • 14
    I disagree with always going to the oldest. Sure, for a survey or if you study the history of mathematics, that makes sense. But for a regular paper, in my opinion you should cite whatever source would be most useful to your readers (you can still additionally credit the original author if you feel like it). A recent book is likely to be more useful to someone who wants to read the proof of that result than an old badly written paper in a language they do not speak. Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 21:30

I obtain, read, and cite the original sources whenever I can.

I first did it as a kind of mindless distraction while avoiding writing my PhD but then I discovered that it was also fun. Adding to my long-term enthusiasm for tracking original sources was the fact that the examiners of my PhD commented on how frequently they had been unaware of the original source of many of the ideas that were central to my research area, and how much they enjoyed learning of them.


It depends entirely on the purpose of the reference:

  • Do you want to cite the other paper as the original proof of a concept? Then cite the original.
  • Do you want to cite the other paper because it contains a good description of the concept? Then cite whichever paper fits that description, which may or may not be the original.
  • Do you want to cite the other paper to show that the concept is still of interest during recent years? Then cite the most recent paper.
  • etc.

Depends. I can cite this paper or this one, and within the right context, the same information is conveyed either way (e.g., general case for where researchers may use synthetic controls). I would only cite both if the case of the old paper was substantively different/interesting or there were other reasons to cite both at once. But there's no rule.

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