Usually, empirical studies are built on theoretical backgrounds. When I am writing on a specific subject and would like to cite an empirical study which has been done on this subject and discuss its results. Can I simply cite the study and discuss its findings WITHOUT citing the studies which formed the theoretical background of the empirical act?

For example, assume that study X measures the impact of social media use on teens. X states that, before empirically testing the effects, 'we relied on study 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 to form our 10 statements' (effects). 'Findings revealed that the top 3 effects were effect A, B and C'.

When discussing the results, can I simply say that the study X found that the top 3 effects of social media are A, B and C (X 2010, p. 20). Am I obligated to add that the effect A was drawn from study 1, effect B from study 2, etc... you get the idea.

  • Anyone on this question?
    – R. AS.
    May 29, 2016 at 21:16

1 Answer 1


If the studies used in study X are relevant for the discussion you are writing - and not just because the author of study X cited them, you should cite them individually.

However, as you are writing a academic text, you should at least put some effort into contextualising methodology of other stories. The extend of this would of course depend on the overall relevance of study X to the main argument of your own paper.

Citing a work can mean two things:

  • a merely mechanical notice saying you have read a particular text and used some idea and/or wording from it
  • a complex statement on the orientation of your research, for example what research tradition, school or network you follow

So if you would like to quote your study X (as it is nicknamed in the question) simply for referencing a source on a statement, it would be enough to quote study X and not the underlying works.

However, if the underlying works of study X are important in the argumentation where you cite them in - for example in a discussion - it would be a good thing to show you have read and reflected on the literature the study X is based on.

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