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Nontraditional Sources: Citing Secondary Sources

Last updated 5/17/2016


Visual: The words “Walden University Writing Center” and the Walden University Writing Center logo on a blank page of a notebook with a pencil. The slogan, “Your writing, grammar, and APA experts,” appears. The screen shifts to present the words “Nontraditional Sources” with the title “Citing Secondary Sources” underneath.

Audio: Music plays.


Visual: A slide appears that says: “Secondary Source” at the top. Below, there is the following explanation, “You read about what Ryan and Zimmerelli (2006) said in the following book: Hewett, B.L. (2010). The online writing conference: A guide for teachers and tutors. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Audio: We at the Writing Center do not encourage you to use secondary sources because you want to try to find the original source if possible. It's much more accurate to find the original source and to read it directly from that source.

When you start getting a secondary source, now you’ve got a middle person who might be interpreting that information, or presenting it a little different light, and when you read it, then you're getting a different view, a different lens through which you're seeing that information. It's like that child's game, I don't know if any of you ever played the game telephone, but I like to think of it as that because in this game you have a line of people, you know you line up everyone, and the first person whispers a sentence to the second person. The second person then whispers what they heard to the third person. And so on and so forth. By the time you get to the end of the line, the last person says what they thought was the sentence and it ends up entirely different than what the first person said because you have seven people in the middle that messed it up or changed it. So that's why, if you can, always go to the original source.

However, you may have a very rare instance where you do need to use a secondary source and cite it. So let's look at this example of: you read about what Ryan and Zimmerelli read in the following book. So perhaps Hewett is writing the book and she talks about the study that Ryan and Zimmerelli did in 2006.

How might you cite this? What would you do?


Visual: A green box appears on the same slide, underneath the reference entry for the book, with a sample citation. The citation appears as (Ryan & Zimmerelli, as cited in Hewett, 2010).

Audio: In this case you would actually cite both of them, but the full citation would be for Hewett, 2010. You would write down the original author's names, Ryan and Zimmerelli, but notice there's no need for the year. Because what you’re looking for in your in-text citation is what's going to point you to your reference list.

In this case, Hewett, 2010, is what's going to be on the reference list, and so that's the information you're going to need in your in-text citation.

So here we have Ryan and Zimmerelli, notice it’s an ampersand rather than the word "and" because it appears in the parenthesis. Anything in parenthesis and anything on your reference list requires that ampersand symbol. So it’s Ryan and Zimmerelli, comma, as cited in Hewett, comma, 2010. So the only year that’s used is with the book that you are actually reading. 

If you are physically reading Hewett's book, that's the one that you are going to use the year for because Hewett is the talking about what Ryan and Zimmerelli did or what Ryan and Zimmerelli said.


Visual: A second green box appears on the same background slide. The following in-text citation is in the box: “According to Ryan and Zimmerelli (as cited in Hewett, 2010)…”

Audio: So you might have another example: according to Ryan and Zimmerelli as cited in Hewett, 2010, and then whatever their research said.


Visual: The words “Walden University Writing Center” and the Walden University Writing Center logo on a blank page of a notebook with a pencil. In the middle it says, “Questions? E-mail”