I have some questions regarding secondary citations (in an computer-science research paper that should be published in a journal). I know that they should be avoided when possible, but it is not always that easy. More specifically, my situation is this:

Article A says:

The average value of ... in ... is ... [B]. [C]’s study says that in ... the value is ...

This statement is exactly what i need for my paper. If I read [B] and [C], I see that [A] cited them correctly and if I would have found these two other articles myself, I would have written the same.

Now how to cite this in a correct way?

  1. [B] and [C] say (cited in [A]) ...

    and do a “bad” secondary quote;

  2. [B] and [C] say ...

    and neglect the investigation done by [A] and peform citation plagiarism;

  3. [A] says ...

    and neglect that the data was the achievement of [B] and [C].

  4. [A] says based on the findings of [B] and [C] ...

    and do a secondary quote again.

  • 6
    "I know that they [secondary citations] should be avoided when possible" - where did you hear that? Giant [citation needed] on that statement :)
    – ff524
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 10:36
  • There is many material about it, e.g. here (see indirect citations): owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/03 Or here: blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2010/05/… Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 10:50
  • 7
    It doesn't say anything about avoiding secondary citations on that page. It just says that you should try to track down the original source so you can cite it also.
    – ff524
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 10:53
  • I added a second link where it says: "You’ve probably heard that you should avoid secondary sources when possible. It’s true—". Or here "guidline 4": psych.uncc.edu/pagoolka/plagiars.html If i trackdown the original source, i find the same thing. So i would write almost or exactly the same like the author that mentions the secondary sources. Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 11:01
  • 1
    None of those links advise against citing both the original and secondary sources (as in your option 1 and 4).
    – ff524
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 11:29

1 Answer 1


If you write about something originally stated in B and C, you should always read B and C to make sure that's actually what they said (which you say you've done) and cite them. (This rules out Option 3.)

Whether or not to cite A depends on how you use A.

The links (1,2) you have given to support your assertion that secondary citations are "bad" are being misinterpreted. Both of those advise against the practice of only citing the secondary source and not also tracking down the original. The third link you brought up (3) says not to use A's statements about B and C without citing A (Option 2).

  • Hi (I am here from the q you just commented on). My situation is that its a very general statement. A statement that is very common in biology now. Its essentially a definition. However the paper (A) cites paper (B). I don't know if I should cite A or B for a general statement
    – masfenix
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 1:05
  • Right, I agree that's why I am in this problem. But should I cite the person who summarized it from a paper I havnt read nor is it related to my research?
    – masfenix
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 1:09
  • 1
    @masfenix If it's important that the statement is accurate, you need to read the original paper (at least enough to make sure that the person who summarized it, did so correctly). Then cite both.
    – ff524
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 1:10
  • It is important. However that statement is common in my field. Infact a lot of other papers i read have a very common statement (without citation). (Should we take this to chat if you have time)
    – masfenix
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 1:12
  • @masfenix If it's common knowledge in your field, then don't cite it. (Here's a useful reference.) If you're not 100% sure that it's common knowledge, cite it just to be on the safe side. Sure, go to chat if you have more questions.
    – ff524
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 1:13

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