Imagine that a paper by [Author A] has pulled together some literature on the misuse of a technology in context X. I now want to talk about misuse of the same technology but in context Y. When creating a different narrative and putting together different arguments, much of what I say uses the references of [Author A] with a similar or the same opinion.

Take the following made-up quote from (Author A):

Technologies have values embedded in their design (Author B).

I think it would be wrong to only directly cite [Author B] and make a similar statement without acknowledging [Author A] since the idea really comes from the way that the latter uses the former. Also, it would just feel wrong since someone else has done a lot of the work in finding the references.

This occurs many times and so it would also be obvious how I found the sources (of course, I will state in the background section that I did a backward search to find sources). At the same time, my analysis is different and hence I cannot just say "read [Author A] for a literature review]" - I need to connect it all to my topic (and also other areas not covered by [Author A].

What is the correct and, if allowed, most elegant way to handle second-order citations? Particularly when I need to do it many times. Is there an alternative to using second-order citations?

N.b., this isn't a meta-survey like you would find in medical science or similar.

1 Answer 1


There are two simple ways to deal with this, and you can choose the one you prefer.

  1. Describe in the introduction how you found the two papers and cite them both. Choose the one you prefer and mention that you will be citing this paper only. Which one you prefer is up to you: maybe you choose one because of its better writing style, because it is the first one, or because it is the second one and it refers to the first one, allowing readers to find both. Then cite the single paper.

  2. Describe in the introduction how you found the two papers and cite them both. Cite both papers every time (why not?). For example: "Technologies have values embedded in their design [1, 2]."

There are no rules about what is the best way, but you should always consider the point of view of the reader of your paper: what would you like to see when you read the paper? Personally, I have a slight preference for (2) because it will allow me to quickly find both papers, even if I decide to read, say, only the results section of your paper.

Finally, you can avoid citing the paper "many times" by re-structuring the text in your article: it should normally not be necessary to cite the same paper more than once in the same section, so you will have to cite them only 3-4 times (introduction, methods, discussion).

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