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A Source Within a Source

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By Nikolas Nadeau, Writing Consultant

Here is one of the most common questions we receive at the Writing Center: How do you cite a source within a source?

To show what I mean, imagine that you are reading Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang and D.J. Kool Herc. (I highly recommend this book as personal reading, by the way!) Let's say that within this book, Chang and Herc cite the following newspaper article:

Lee, D. (1997, April 22). 5 years later: A mixed legacy of rebuilding. Los Angeles Times, p. A1.

Here, Chang and Herc’s book is what we call the secondary source, while the Los Angeles Times article is the primary source. You wish to cite this newspaper article – but how? Here are three easy steps:

1. Try as hard as you can to find the original source, whether in electronic or hard copy form. As we note in the Writing Center’s web page on secondary source citation, “You should use secondary sources only if you are unable to find or retrieve the original source of information” (Walden University, 2011, para. 2).

Reach out to the Walden Library staff if you are having trouble locating a source.

After doing a simple Google search, I actually found the Los Angeles Times article mentioned above at this link. Therefore, I would cite this source as an online newspaper article and forget about secondary source citation altogether.

2. If you cannot locate the source, follow this format when referring to it in your paper body:

Primary author (as cited in secondary author, year) stated … (p. number).
… (Primary author, as cited in secondary author, year, p. number).

For example, pretend that the Los Angeles Times article above was, in fact, not available online, and that you could not access the newspaper’s paper archives. In this case, a proper secondary source citation would look like this:

According to Lee (as cited in Chang & Herc, 2005), areas affected by the 1992 Los Angeles riots still displayed sluggish economic growth 5 years later ( p. 120).

(Note that the page number citation above is fictitious.)

3. In your paper’s reference list, include the secondary source only:

Chang, J., & Herc, D. J. K. (2005). Can’t stop won’t stop: A history of the hip-hop generation. New York, NY: Picador.

For APA’s official explanation of secondary source citation, see page 178 of the 6th edition manual. For our own additional explanation, visit our web page.

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