Last Updated: Jun 22, 2023 Views: 260251

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

According to the APA manual it is best to "cite secondary sources sparingly--for instance, when the original work is out of print, unavailable, or available only in a language that you do not understand. If possible, as a matter of good scholarly practice, find the primary source, read it, and cite it directly rather than citing a secondary source” (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020, p. 258).

In your in-text citation identify the primary source, and include in parentheses "(as cited in Author, Date)". The reference list will only list the secondary source. In the examples below, Smith's study is the primary source and Queenan et al. is the secondary ("as cited in") source.

Smith's 2008 study (as cited in Queenan et al., 2016) found that...

Queenan, H. R., Johnson, F. W., Yili, T. S., Sannefort, M. R, & Langman, R. C. (2017). Cyberbullying in American youth. Oxford University Press.

MLA Style

The MLA Handbook (9th edition), p. 284 states that you should use the original source if you can find it. However, if you need to cite an indirect source, as the manual refers to secondary sources, 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 wish to clarify the relation between the original and secondhand sources in a note.)

Works Cited Example

Beirne, Logan. Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency. Encounter Books, 2013. EBSCOhost,

In-Text Example

George Washington described his meeting with French officers, then a twenty-one year old, in his diaries and explained that the wine the officers drank “banished their restraint” (qtd. in Berine 450).

Chicago Style

Per the Chicago Manual of Style (17th edition) you want to try your best to find the original source and cite that.  However, if that isn't possible, the general formats are described below.

Both the original and the secondary sources must be listed in the note; however, only the secondary source appears in the reference list (see Section 14.260: Citations taken from secondary sources).

Bibliography Example

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

Note General Format

2. Author First Name Author Last Name, Title of Book (Place: Publisher, Year), page number(s), quoted in Author First Name Author Last Name, Title of Book (Place: Publisher, Year), page number(s).

3. Author First Name Author Last Name, "Title of Article," Title of Journal vol#, no.(issue#) (Date): page number(s), quoted in Author First Name Author Last Name, Title of Book (Place: Publisher, Year), page number(s).

Note Example

2. 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.

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 in-text citation would include the words “quoted in” (see Section 15.56: “Quoted in” in author-date references).

Reference List Example

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

In-Text Example

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

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Further Help

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 sources in your class assignments and projects.

Campus Students

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