Reference List The Sources Used At The End Of The Essay By Robin

by Timothy McAdoo

You’ve probably heard that you should avoid secondary sources when possible. It’s true—if you find great information being quoted or paraphrased somewhere, it’s well worth your effort to track down the original source so you can read it for yourself and therefore cite it directly.

But why track down the original when you already have the quotes?

First, by reading the full text of the original source, you can verify that the context of the quote supports the point you want to make. You don’t want to be surprised by an informed reader who tells you that the original source actually contradicts your points—especially if that informed reader is your professor!  

Second, by finding and reading the original source, you will become better informed about your research topic. To a reader familiar with the research in your topic area, the citations in your paper are one indication of whether you have a firm understanding of the subject and of the relevant research. By contrast, if you’ve cited secondary sources for ideas or quotations that you could have obtained easily (or relatively so), you may give the impression that your research was hasty or superficial.

If your primary source is an archival document (e.g., a diary, limited-circulation brochure or pamphlet, unpublished manuscript), see Section 7.10 of the APA Publication Manual (6th ed.) for citation and reference guidelines and examples.  

So when are secondary sources appropriate?

It’s okay to cite a secondary source when you’ve exhausted the options for finding the original work.

For example, an out-of-print work may be impossible for you to find but could still be quoted in recent work by other authors. Or perhaps the paper you’re reading has cited a personal correspondence. You obviously can’t cite the original source directly in that case, so the secondary source is appropriate.

And of course there are those cases when an author takes a complex topic and puts it in layman’s terms. Citing this type of secondary source, where the extra level of analysis is much the point, may also be appropriate.

How is it done?

In your reference list, provide a reference for the source you read. This is known as the secondary source because it is one step removed from the original source of the idea or quotation. In your text, name the original work and provide the citation for the secondary source.

Let’s look at an example:

In his e-mails, Smith argued that asynchronous line dancing would be the next Internet meme (as cited in Jones, 2010).

Jones (2010) would be the reference you include in your reference list. Also, note that by mentioning the original format of the information (in this case a series of e-mail messages), you not only specify that this is a secondary source but also give the reader an indication of why that’s the case. Although it’s not a requirement, mentioning the original format answers this potential question for the reader so he or she can focus on the content!

Have any questions about citing secondary sources? Feel free to leave us comments. What kinds of secondary sources have you used?


APA (American Psychological Association) style is most commonly used to cite sources within the social sciences. This resource, revised according to the 6th edition, second printing of the APA manual, offers examples for the general format of APA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the reference page. For more information, please consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (6th ed., 2nd printing).

Contributors: Joshua M. Paiz, Elizabeth Angeli, Jodi Wagner, Elena Lawrick, Kristen Moore, Michael Anderson, Lars Soderlund, Allen Brizee, Russell Keck
Last Edited: 2018-02-21 02:54:13

Your reference list should appear at the end of your paper. It provides the information necessary for a reader to locate and retrieve any source you cite in the body of the paper. Each source you cite in the paper must appear in your reference list; likewise, each entry in the reference list must be cited in your text.

Your references should begin on a new page separate from the text of the essay; label this page "References" centered at the top of the page (do NOT bold, underline, or use quotation marks for the title). All text should be double-spaced just like the rest of your essay.

Basic Rules

  • All lines after the first line of each entry in your reference list should be indented one-half inch from the left margin. This is called hanging indentation.
  • Authors' names are inverted (last name first); give the last name and initials for all authors of a particular work for up to and including seven authors. If the work has more than seven authors, list the first six authors and then use ellipses after the sixth author's name. After the ellipses, list the last author's name of the work.
  • Reference list entries should be alphabetized by the last name of the first author of each work.
  • For multiple articles by the same author, or authors listed in the same order, list the entries in chronological order, from earliest to most recent.
  • Present the journal title in full.
  • Maintain the punctuation and capitalization that is used by the journal in its title.
    • For example: ReCALL not RECALL or Knowledge Management Research & Practice not Knowledge Management Research and Practice. 
  • Capitalize all major words in journal titles.
  • When referring to books, chapters, articles, or webpages, capitalize only the first letter of the first word of a title and subtitle, the first word after a colon or a dash in the title, and proper nouns. 
  • Italicize titles of longer works such as books and journals.
  • Do not italicize, underline, or put quotes around the titles of shorter works such as journal articles or essays in edited collections.
  • Please note: While the APA manual provides many examples of how to cite common types of sources, it does not provide rules on how to cite all types of sources. Therefore, if you have a source that APA does not include, APA suggests that you find the example that is most similar to your source and use that format. For more information, see page 193 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed., 2nd printing.
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