How do I reference a secondary source?

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Secondary source referencing feels…

So if he said, ‘she said that referencing is complicated’. Do you reference him or her? Wait, what? All we got from that is referencing is complicated…

We don’t have enough fingers (and toes) to count the number of times students have asked: ‘I would like to reference a statement that the author has quoted from someone else…how do I do it?’. This is called referencing a secondary source.

The material you are reading is the secondary source which is referencing an original source. The format, however, depends on the referencing style you are using.

It is best to avoid secondary source referencing as much as you can. If the information is important enough to include in your writing then it is worth reading and referencing the original source. Why? There are several reasons:

  • You can make sure you are using the information in the right context, not depending on someone else’s interpretation. This allows you to reference with confidence. Simply put, it is better to say ‘X said this’ rather than ‘X said that Y said that…’
  • You can deepen your knowledge of the subject. You get a better sense of the scholarly conversation going on. You get to know the prominent voices in the conversation and start to recognize the names that matter.
  • It shows your instructor that you have researched with diligence, engaged with the subject matter and selected your references with care.

We know it is not always possible to access the original source. According to the APA referencing style manual, secondary source referencing is only used if the original source cannot be accessed by normal means, is out of print, or is not written in English.

If you have to reference a secondary source, then be aware of the relevant style rules by consulting the appropriate style guide.

In APA 6 and AGPS Harvard for example, the original author is mentioned in-text along with the reference to the secondary source, but only the secondary source has a reference list entry because it is the work consulted.

On the other hand, some styles require that the original author is mentioned only if directly quoting word-for-word. You can view specific examples in AGPS Harvard, APA 6, MLA and Vancouver styles in the Griffith Referencing Tool.

For information on style guides, see the library guide Referencing: Which style to use. Note that some style guides are provided by the school or available via your course site in Learning@Griffith. Please contact the librarians if you need help with your referencing.