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Citations: Secondary Sources

Basics of Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are sources that refer NOT to the original work, but to a researcher/author who cited that original source.  

Secondary source citations should appear in the text like this: 

  • Baboian (2011, as cited in Leonardi, 2019)—when the author is discussed in the narrative (narrative citation) 

  • (Baboian, 2011, as cited in Leonardi, 2011)—when the citation is only presented in the parentheses (i.e., the author is not mentioned in the sentence; parenthetical citation) 

  • NOTE: the reference should appear in the Reference List according to the APA formatting rules for that type of source. 


Burnout is a melding of job stress, feeling overwhelmed, and being exhausted at and by work (Maslach, 1982, as cited in Shaufeli et al., 2017). 

  • Here, Maslach is the original author of the idea being cited, but the function of this secondary source indicates that the writer is not actually citing the discussion of Maslach, but another set of researchers’ (Shaufeli et al.) interpretation of Maslach. 

  • Generally, it is best that the author of this work to obtain the original source, then read and cite the original Maslach.  

  • It may be useful to cite Shaufeli et al. as well. For instance, maybe this set of authors added to or expanded Maslach’s ideas.   

  • Form and Style Editors would recommend that the writer read and cite all relevant sources and opt for a citation with multiple sources, rather than a secondary source. 


Utility of a Secondary Source

As indicated in this example, the utility or function of a secondary source is to cite one writer/researcher’s (or set of writers/researchers) interpretation of another’s work.  

Secondary sources are problematic, in general scholarship, because it is a little like playing telephone; the current writer is relying on another’s explanation of someone else’s work. In the Walden capstone study, student writers should always go to the original source for the original material (as the three bullet points suggest). 

When a Secondary Source May be Necessary

There are a few instances where a secondary source may be necessary in a Walden capstone study. Form and Style Editors recommend that student writers only use secondary sources in Walden capstones (and as a general practice in scholarship) under the following circumstances: 

  • The original author’s work is out of print or otherwise unattainable. It may be an older, seminal source that a writer simply cannot find. In this instance, a secondary source may be useful. 

  • Similarly, a secondary source may be appropriate if the writer cannot access the original source or the expense to obtain the source is excessive. 

  • Finally, the other instance where a secondary source may be appropriate in a Walden capstone is if the original source is only presented in a language that the writer does not read. It may be that the writer simply cannot access the original source in a language the writer is familiar with, or the writer may be unable to access an appropriate translation. In this instance, the writer could rely on a secondary source.