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HPD Effective Writing Center for the College of Health Care Sciences: Citing Secondary Sources

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  Citing Secondary Sources

Video on how to cite secondary sources.

It is always best to read the original or primary sources, but sometimes this is difficult if the original work was published in another language or was published in a book that is difficult to obtain. In such a case, you would need to cite the original or primary source in the text of the paper, but you would provide a reference in the reference list for the secondary source.  Also, it is important to remember that APA says to " 'use secondary sources sparingly, for instance, when the original work is out of print, unavailable through usual sources, or not available in English.' When the original work, the speech, is available through a 'usual source,'' sources that can be retrieved through ordinary publishing channels should be cited.

See also: The APA Style website's FAQ posting on how to format a secondary source.

Ex. 1: Quote by one author used in the text of another book: Within the Text


a.     Secondary citation within the text:

According to Freud (as cited in Skinner, 1923), the characteristics ….

b.    The document used is cited in the reference list

Skinner, B. F. (1974). About behaviorism.  New York, NY: Knopf.

  • Notice that I made a point of mentioning Freud in the body of the paper so the reader would understand that any ideas being cited even though the actual book that discussed Freud's ideas was actual written by Skinner.

Ex. 2: Citing an unpublished manuscript in archival collection. APA (6th ed.), p. 178, section 6.13 and   pp. 212-213

Unpublished and archived sources are difficult for most people to be able to see or obtain the original document so secondary sources may be used. This would be the case for a diary entry like the example in the APA (6th ed.), p. 178, section 6.13.  Chances are that you are not going to be able to see the original diary entry because it is a one-of-a-kind document, but you might have read someone else who had seen the diary's account of what was said.  However, the diary might be in a digitalized archival collection on the web or through a library database, and this would impact how you would cite the diary because of the digitized format! In that case, see the information about formatting an unpublished manuscripts in an digitized archival collection.

a. Secondary citation within the text

    According to NSU's President Hanbury (as cited in Fischler, 1970), Nova University did not want to invest in buildings and other infrastructure when the university was first getting started because the focus was on distance education.

b. The actual document  used  is cited in the reference list

Fischler, A.  [1970]. Nova University today.  Unpublished manuscript, Fischler Papers. Alvin Sherman Library, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL.
  • In situations where the date is not known but can be reliably estimated, use “ca.”, which is the abbreviation for circa,  before the date in square brackets. If you do not have any idea about the date, use (n.d.) for no date in parentheses.

Ex. 3: Citing a dissertation that happens to be in a proprietary database of dissertations that is not available to the public. 

The Fischler School of Education and Human Services at NSU has a database called the MARPs, Practicums, and Applied Dissertations Database. It is password protected, and only students, staff, and faculty at NSU can access this proprietary database. Because this is an institutional repository, the dissertations are not available for purchase, in an archive or repository, or online. A person outside NSU would not be able to obtain Davidson's dissertation, so a secondary citation would need to be used.

 a. Secondary citation is used within the text:

According to Davidon (as cited  in Smith, 2008), another doctoral student did not come to the same conclusion about ninth-grade academies.

b. The actual document used is cited in the reference list:

Smith, T. O.  [2008]. Evaluating the effects of ninth-grade academies (Doctoral dissertation). Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL. Retrieved from the MARPs, Practicums, and Applied Dissertations database.