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What assignment feedback will you get? (Part 3: Secondary Referencing)

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

You may not be sure what secondary referencing is but it is a very important topic in referencing, judging by the amount of times it is discussed in feedback on assignments and by the number of times previous screencasts we have produced have been accessed by students.


So what exactly is secondary referencing? A secondary reference or secondary citation is a citation in which you show that you have found some evidence or an idea but that the source where you found it is not the original source of the information. This means that the information you read had a citation with it showing the original source. It is vital that you show this in your writing. So, imagine you were writing an assignment and had seen an idea you wanted to include in an article written by Smith in 2019 but that the idea was accompanied by a citation to an article from Wong 2016. You must not simply use the idea and write a citation for Smith (2019). This would mean that the information had not been correctly attributed and some would say that it would be a form of plagiarism! One of your options would be to include a secondary reference but this may not be the best solution.


So, taking the example of Smith and Wong, if you really think that the information that you have read in Smith's article is important to include in your assignment then you must try to read the article by Wong. If you are able to read the article by Wong then you will then be able to provide a citation to Wong and you would not write a secondary reference because it is no longer secondary information; you would have read the information directly. This looks much better in your assignment than a secondary reference. In fact, the more often you use secondary references the more likely your tutor will think you have been lazy.


However, looking lazy is not the only reason you want to avoid using secondary referencing if you can. In the case of Smith and Wong, if you use the idea and do not read Wong then you are trusting Smith's interpretation of Wong's information. Maybe if you had read Wong you would disagree with Smith's interpretation or reporting. You might even find that there is an error. You might think that this is rare but errors are more common than you might think and it is your responsibility to make sure they do not appear in your assignment. One real example that I remember was when a student had reported a figure as 37% which is what was written in the book he had used. I knew that this figure could not be correct and noticed that when he showed me the book that there was a citation attached to the data. We then managed to find the original, which was an article, and as I expected the original was 3.7%. This error with the decimal point may have been from the author but equally may have been from the copy editor, printer or anyone else involved in the production of the book. However, had the student checked the original he would have not made this error. Fortunately, he was able to correct it and used the original as his citation.


So, what happens if after you have tried to find the original, in this case Wong, you have had no luck in finding it? It is only now that you should consider writing a secondary reference. It will include both the original author's name (Wong) and the author you have read (Smith) and might be written using a small number of verbs. So, to write a secondary reference for information by Wong (2016) which you have read in Smith (2019), if the original source quotes directly then the verb "to quote" should be used and the citations might be as follows:

Wong (2016) quoted in Smith (2019, p.15) states that ....

Smith (2019, p.15) quotes Wong (2019) who states that ...

... (Wong, 2016 quoted in Smith, 2019, p.15).

... (Smith, 2019, p.15 quoting Wong, 2016).


If the original source is not quoted directly then use the verb "to cite"

Wong (2016) cited by Smith (2019, p.15) ...

Smith (2019, p.15) cites Wong (2016) ...

... (Wong, 2016 cited in Smith, 2019, p.15).

... (Smith, 2019, p.15 citing Wong 2016).


For the reference list after the assignment you will write a reference for Smith (2019) but you will not write a reference for Wong (2016). You only include sources in your reference list that you have read directly and you have not read Wong.






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