Answered By: Jennifer Harris
Last Updated: Feb 12, 2016     Views: 602

A secondary source is a source cited within another source. Sometimes, this is called an indirect source. It is always recommended to locate and cite the original source whenever possible, but there are times when the original source is unavailable (e.g. it’s out of print, in a language other than English, or difficult to obtain through usual sources, etc.). If that’s the case, you may find that you need to cite the secondary source instead.

Generally speaking, to cite a secondary source, you would cite the original source in the text of your paper, but you would provide a reference to the secondary source in the reference list. Here are examples of how it works in the three major citation styles:

APA Style

Per the APA Manual (6th edition), p. 178:

Give the secondary source in the reference list; in text, name the original work and give a citation for the secondary source. For example, if Allport’s work is cited in Nicholson and you did not read Allport’s work, list the Nicholson reference in the reference list. In the text, use the following citation:

            Allport’s diary (as cited in Nicholson, 2003).

For additional examples of citing secondary sources in APA Style, check out the APA Style Blog’s post on Secondary Sources, or the Purdue OWL.

MLA Style

Per the MLA Handbook (7th edition), p. 226:

If what you quote or paraphrase is itself a quotation, put the abbreviation qtd. in (“quoted in”) before the indirect source you cite in your parenthetical reference. (You may document the original source in a note; see 6.5.1.)

Samuel Johnson admitted that Edmund Burke was an “extraordinary man” (qtd in Boswell 2: 450).

Works Cited

Boswell, James. The Life of Johnson. Ed. George Birkbeck Hill and L. F. Powell. 6 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1934-50. Print.

For an additional example of citing indirect sources in MLA Style, check out the Purdue OWL.

Chicago Style

Per the Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition):

Notes and Bibliography method (p. 764):

If an original source is unavailable, both the original and the secondary sources must be listed.

1. Louis Zukofsky, “Sincerity and Objectification,” Poetry 37 (February 1931): 269, quoted in Bonnie Costello, Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possessions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), 78.

Author-Date References (p. 808):

If an original source is unavailable, and “quoted in” must be resorted to, mention the original author and date in the text, and cite the secondary source in the reference list entry. The text citation would include the words “quoted in.”

Costello, Bonnie. 1981. Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possessions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

In Louis Zukofsky’s “Sincerity and Objectification,” from the February 1931 issue of Poetry magazine (quoted in Costello 1981) . . .

For an additional example of citing secondary sources in Chicago Style, check out the Purdue OWL.

For more information and examples for citations, see our Citing Your Sources research guide.  

This information is intended to be a guideline, not expert advice. Please be sure to speak to your professor about the appropriate way to cite a secondary source in your class assignments and projects.

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