Easing the Frustration of Citing Secondary Sources

by Cate Foster

Ensuring that we are properly citing our sources in our papers can be a big enough headache. But what if the source we are using is citing someone else and we want to use that information? How on earth is that supposed to be cited?

As if we students don’t have enough to deal with…

Although using indirect sources is discouraged, it is not impossible or unheard of. The examples below illustrate how to cite secondary sources in the MLA, APA, and Chicago styles.


This is what the Purdue OWL has to say about citing indirect (secondary) sources in MLA format:

Sometimes you may have to use an indirect source. An indirect source is a source cited in another source. For such indirect quotations, use “qtd. in” to indicate the source you actually consulted. For example:

Ravitch argues that high schools are pressured to act as “social service centers, and they don’t do that well” (qtd. in Weisman 259).

Note that, in most cases, a responsible researcher will attempt to find the original source, rather than citing an indirect source.


APA handles secondary sources a little differently. APA advises avoiding secondary sources when possible. However, this is not always possible, such as when the original work is unavailable, out of print, or published in another language. List the secondary source (the source you are actually reading) in the References; in your text, name the original work and give a citation for the secondary source.

For example, you are reading Vivar’s article, which cites Katzman. If you did not read Katzman’s work, list the Vivar article in your Reference List.

Your in-text citation might look something like this:
Katzman asserts that nurses have assumed more decision-making power (as cited in Vivar, 2006).

The entry in your reference list would be:
Vivar, C. G. (2006). Putting conflict management into practice: A nursing case study.

Journal of Nursing Management, 14: 201-206.

This is what the Purdue OWL says about listing a secondary source in an APA reference list:

List the source the work was discussed in:
Coltheart, M., Curtis, B., Atkins, P., & Haller, M. (1993). Models of reading aloud:

Dual-route and parallel-distributed-processing approaches. Psychological Review,

100, 589-608.

NOTE: Give the secondary source in the references list; in the text, name the original work, and give a citation for the secondary source. For example, if Seidenberg and McClelland’s work is cited in Coltheart et al. and you did not read the original work, list the Coltheart et al. reference in the References. In the text, use the following citation:

In Seidenberg and McClelland’s study (as cited in Coltheart, Curtis, Atkins, & Haller, 1993), …

The APA Style website has another example. You can see what it looks like here.

Chicago Manual of Style

The CMoS, like APA and MLA, discourages reliance on secondary sources. According to the 16th edition of the Manual, Rule 14.273, “if an original source is unavailable, however, both the original and the secondary source must be listed.”

If you are using the notes-bibliography system, the example CMoS gives is as follows (Rule 14.273):

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.

If you are using the author-date system, CMoS provides this example in Rule 15.52: “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.’”

The example of the reference list entry CMoS provides looks like this:

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

The in-text citation for this reference would look like this:

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



  1. Cate, thanks so much for detailing how to cite secondary sources using the major citation styles. Even though the practice is discouraged, I often come across scholarship that includes secondary sources anyway. And I’ve certainly done so in my own academic papers. In any case, I feel this is an often overlooked aspect in the world of citation styles and I appreciate you addressing it.

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