I am currently preparing some case studies written by Harvard Business School professors. The case is a 'real marketing' case; based on a true story. It is mostly compiled from many sources such as newspaper articles and books. Aside from common knowledge, the authors sometimes provide information (i.e. factual) without any reference, other times they do. I, sometimes, try to 'find' an original source for their un-referenced claims (and always track the referenced ones).

My question: If I don't bother to find a primary source by myself and simply cite the case writers for the information they are presenting (the ones without references), is this a bad practice? Is it plagiarism? (Since the information could have belonged to someone else)

One more thing I noticed which is really confusing is that, sometimes, the authors write an idea without a reference and then, by accident, I discover that such an information belonged to reference #24 (for example) which is like 5 pages away (How did I discover it? By tracking the reference #24 and reading it and discovering that this information is the same presented in page 1 for example (which was without a reference))! How should I handle such a situation? Can I, again, simply cite the authors for whatever un-referenced information they are presenting? (Assuming that they are HBS professors and know what they're doing)

I am just worried about plagiarism and crediting the wrong people.

2 Answers 2


If you cite the secondary source (the book written by the sort-of-careless Harvard professors), you are not at risk of plagiarism. That does not mean it is great practice: finding a primary source or something close to it is always a good idea. But you will not be at fault if you simply site the Harvard profs and take them at face value.

One thing you could do is find secondary "primary" sources to back up the profs. Then you could site an idea like this:

... and that is why monkeys like to steal bananas from the Harvard library (Mr. Fancy Harvard Prof 1, Mr. Fancy Harvard Prof 2, 1999) (Mr. Honest Zoo-Keaper Who Interned at Harvard, 1998).

Wherein the "Mr. Honest Zoo-Keaper Who Interned at Harvard" is the primary source you found on your own, externally, who seems to back up the less-than-well-documented assertions of the illustrious "Mr. Fancy Harvard Prof 1" and "Mr. Fancy Harvard Prof 2".


Plagiarism is passing off someone else's work as your own, so that is only an issue if you take stuff from the work without reference.

The bigger problem for you is that you can't entirely say your source is reliable. Your choice is between trusting the writers or doing the work to find out for yourself what you have other evidence is true. Ideally, you should read the references they have given find out which support the bits you want to use (even if the reference was given some pages away), and reference both in your own work. If you're not willing/able to locate the earlier source for something, you might want to consider how central the point is to your work (how bad you would look if it turned out to be inaccurate).

  • The case itself was provided by my instructor to just brief it and answer its questions. Citations and references aren't even required in the presentation since the prof knows that it's the case we're talking about. I, however, like to do some extra work and provide citations/references. That's it. Yes, I am always tracking whatever piece of reference they're providing, read it and cite the original one instead. However, sometimes they don't even provide a reference, that's the issue.
    – R. AS.
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 8:38
  • 1
    @R.AS. To be honest, I can't work out what it is you are doing.
    – Jessica B
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 9:42
  • You mean you can't understand what I am trying to do with the case or you think that what I am doing is pointless? Please clarify.
    – R. AS.
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 9:52

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