I am reading a paper which discussing the change in a specific idea in a field of science over time. I would like to basically summarize the points in the paper but in a smaller fashion by taking some quotes and explaining how they relate to my situation.

For instance, in the paper I am reading the author said "in 2002, Stanley and Miikkulainen [SM02b] argued that the topology of a neural network also affects their functionality" where the tag [SM02b] is a reference to a entry in the author's bibliography.

Is it sufficient to only cite the author of the paper, or do I need to cite both the author of the paper and the author of the paper the author cited in the paper?


4 Answers 4


This will all become much clearer if you shift your perspective away from paraphrasing and towards giving a context for your own work. Start by pretending that the other paper doesn't exist, and asking: "What does the reader of my work need to know about this concept?"

When you know that, and you know what level of detail you want to go into, then you can look to the other paper (and other things as well, I hope!) as a source of information to help you build your discussion of the context of your work.

A useful phrase at this point is: "A thorough discussion of [subject] can be found in [review paper]." Then you can explain your view of the material, which the reader will understand is heavily influenced by the nice review paper you've just cited. In digesting the review to produce your own explanation, you will need to choose what you think are the important points for understanding the context of your work, and the key references supporting those points will be the ones that you should cite: as these references are the ones that were important for your understanding, so too should they be for your readers.

  • Ahh this makes much more sense. I even left a logical place for it in the paper already to introduce it as such.
    – KDecker
    Dec 5, 2014 at 1:29

The suggestions by earthling and jakebeal are sound advice. I want to add, risking to provide an answer that actually is not answering the question that there is a caveat to citing material without checking the sources. When you do not check the original source you run the risk of propagating errors. You do not know if the way in which a particular source is correctly made and you may find that your take home from a paper is not the same as the source from where you were thinking of citing it. You should therefore, as much as possible, avoid to cite sources that involve also taking other author's interpretation of the original results or conclusions.

This may see like a minor point but errors that are propagated this way can become very destructive. In some cases errors like this may become"truths" that are very hard to correct. So while you can cite a source by as ref1 cited in ref2 you should make every effort to avoid it.


While jakebeal's answer is a fine answer, I wanted to add that there is actual accepted format in some referencing system. For example, in Harvard Reverencing, your paper would contain (here is where you would actually shorten it down as you desire):

Stanley and Miikkulainen (2002, cited in Smith, 2014) argued that the topology of a neural network also affects their functionality

This way you are saying that you did not read the paper by Stanley and Miikkulainen but you are giving the original authors credit, while still providing a source for your understanding, which the reader might want to check.

  • 3
    Actually, you are saying that you could not read the paper by Stanley and Miikkulainen. If you can read the original paper, you must.
    – JeffE
    Dec 6, 2014 at 5:11
  • @jeffe Do you have a source for such a requirement? Best practice? Yes. Fail if you do not do it?
    – earthling
    Dec 6, 2014 at 5:28
  • 4
    @earthling: as a referee, I would not let this sort of thing pass unless there was a clear reason why the original could not be cited directly. And as an author I have had to use this sort of indirect citation exactly once, when the original was published in Russian, a language that neither I nor my co-author can read. Dec 10, 2014 at 11:24

This is an answer by Electricman in the comments.

I remember that my professor had told me not to use the citation of one paper in separate to increase your references. Also, he told me this is a plagiarism if I do so. So what I did was so simple, I read those citations and wrote the literature review based on my understating.

But I guess you want to know if you can cite only the main paper, so the answer is: of course you can. Even it is better add, you should only cite the main paper. But be aware that the main paper should be in a famous peer reviewed journal.

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