Overcoming the Challenges of Referencing Sources within Other Sources

By Jann Harris

One of the biggest mistakes we make as college writers is not differentiating between our source materials and their sources. We tend to think the writer of the text we are reading as authoring all the ideas contained in it, but just like we use sources to support our arguments and ideas, our sources are also using sources of their own. Attributing information and ideas to the correct scholars is important, but training yourself to recognize and properly acknowledge the sources your source materials rely on presents a few easy-to-overcome challenges.

Knowing what to call source references within other sources is the first challenge you’ll need to overcome. Scholars in the social sciences, historians, and economists, call them secondary sources while those in the hard sciences—physics, chemistry, biology, etc.—call these same sources works not consulted directly, and scholars in the humanities use the term indirect sources. Understanding the proper terminology will assist you in finding information in the glossaries of style guides and asking for help from writing consultants and professors.

All style guides—APA, CMS, CSE, and MLA included—discourage referencing information outside of their original contexts. This presents a second challenge because when you come across information from one source cited by another source, the next step is not figuring out how to cite it correctly in your paper but finding the original source. For example, if I am reading James Berlin and find that the information he cites from Albert Kitzhaber is important to my argument, I have to go out and find Kitzhaber’s text and cite the information from him directly.

However, sometimes finding original sources is not possible because they are out of print. Other times professors ask students to reference material directly from course textbooks. Textbooks are almost always a mixture of information and ideas gathered from various scholars. Does this mean you are required to go out and find all of the sources cited in your textbook? No. APA, CMS, CSE, and MLA acknowledge this third challenge, and when you absolutely can’t reference sources from their originals, there are options for citing these references.

Below are the rules for both in-text and bibliographic citations for each style guide and examples of quoted and paraphrased references.

Citing Secondary Sources using APA:

  • State the author of the original idea in the signal phrase, and
  • add “as cited in” in front of the appropriate in-text citation.

Examples:

  • Kitzhaber explains that scholars were not clear about rhetoric’s purpose (as cited in Berlin, 1984).
  • Kitzhaber explains that “there was some disagreement among them about whether rhetoric is an art or a science” (as cited in Berlin, 1984, p. 35).

Reference Page:

  • List only the text where you obtained the quote/paraphrase from, i.e., Berlin.

Citing Secondary Sources Using CMS:

  • State the author of the original idea in the signal phrase, and
  • add “quoted in” in front of the appropriate in-text citation.

Examples:

  • Kitzhaber explains that scholars were not clear about rhetoric’s purpose (quoted in Berlin 1984).
  • Kitzhaber explains that “there was some disagreement among them about whether rhetoric is an art or a science” (quoted in Berlin 1984).

Footnote:

  • Use page numbers and citation information from the text where you obtained the quote/paraphrase, i.e., Berlin.

Bibliography Page:

  • List only the text where you obtained the quote/paraphrase, i.e., Berlin.

Citing Works Not Consulted Directly Using CSE:

  • State the author of the original idea in the signal phrase, and
  • add the year the not consulted work was published, a comma, and “cited in” in front of the appropriate in-text citation.

Examples:

  • Kitzhaber (1953, cited in Berlin 1984) explains that scholars were not clear about rhetoric’s purpose.
  • Kitzhaber (1953, cited in Berlin 1984, p.3) explains that “there was some disagreement among them about whether rhetoric is an art or a science.”

Reference Page:

  • List both the consulted—i.e., Berlin—and the not consulted—i.e, Kitzhaber—sources as separate citations.

Citing Indirect Sources using MLA:

  • State the author of the original idea in the signal phrase, and
  • add “qtd. in” in front of the appropriate in-text citation.

Examples:

  • Kitzhaber explains that scholars were not clear about rhetoric’s purpose (qtd. in Berlin 35).
  • Kitzhaber explains that “there was some disagreement among them about whether rhetoric is an art or a science” (qtd. in Berlin 35).

Works Cited Page:

  • List only the text where you obtained the quote/paraphrase, i.e., Berlin.

Try not to get caught up in perfect citations. Make it your practice to look at the references pages and bibliographies of your sources before you read them. This will help you anticipate whether or not you’ll need to locate a source’s sources. Do your best, and remember analyzing sources and attributing ideas to their proper voice is always more valued in academic writing than a perfect citation.

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