Answered By: Sara Fillbrandt, Digital Services Librarian
Last Updated: Jul 12, 2018     Views: 6648

Let's start with an example of your question. The following is a completely fabricated paragraph to give us a concrete example to work with, let's say the following was found in an article by Stambaugh (2015):

Today's culture loves to endorse the use of bath toys. Even adults enjoy having a bath buddy and the most common bath toy to share our bath tubs is the rubber duck. Rubber ducks are typically little yellow plastic figures, but with the innovations made in the past fifty years the typical yellow duck has begun to be dressed up much like little actors. (Andersen, Greene, and Smith, 2008; Johnson, Hopps, and Kennedy, 2009; Allen and Guy, 2008).

Given the litany of sources in this example it is hard to tell which ideas came from which citation. This is a very common issue within scholarly articles and it can be unclear about who to cite and how to cite in these scenarios.

It is always recommended to cite the original source, because by reading the full text of the original source (the three sources [Andersen, et al.; Johnson, et al.; & Allen and Guy] cited in the above paragraph) you can verify that the context of the information supports the point you want to make. You should make every effort to track down the sources that were used to create the paraphrase but sometimes tracking down the original documents is impossible. 

However, in APA, it is okay to cite secondary sources if you absolutely cannot find the original works cited by the secondary author (in our case, Stambaugh). So how would you go about doing this?

In your reference list, provide a reference for the source you read: (Stambaugh, 2015). This is known as the secondary source because it is one step removed from the original source of the idea or quotation. In the text of your paper, name the original works and provide the citation for the secondary source. Here's an example:

In their studies, Andersen, Green and Smith; Johnson, Hopps, and Kennedy; and Allen and Guy argued that the most common bath toy adults like to share bath time with is the rubber duck (as cited in Stambaugh, 2015). 

Stambaugh (2015) would then be the reference you include in your reference list. 

This answer was created in part with guidance from the APA Style Blog. For more information or additional explanations you can view the APA Blog entry here: Secondary Sources (aka How to Cite a Source You Found in Another Source)

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