I am a little bit paranoid about plagiarizing, and I am confused since I have found two seemingly contradictory answers for this.

Suppose source X says "source Y says blah blah blah."

One Answer

From my google searches, it seems like it is always encouraged to go directly to source Y and cite that. If you do not have access to Y, then you can do a parenthetical citation like this: (Y, as cited in X).

Another Answer

In answers to this question on english.se, people are saying that you must always cite both sources, X and Y. This is because the author of X did the work of finding the relevant source Y, and you must cite this.

What is the correct thing to do?

  • 2
    I remember reading somewhere that a major source of error in academic publication is the "game of telephone" that results from people crediting as fact the claims that a paper they read cites another paper as proving (without them, of course, bothering to read or cite the latter paper). I can't give you a reference for this (don't remember the source), but my understanding is that, on the one hand, getting this right is actually really important but, on the other, it's something that so many people get wrong, you won't get into trouble for plagiarism (rather, you might get some wrong "facts") Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 16:41
  • @sesquipedalias I see. However, my question is more like "if I do have access to the original source and is says what the secondary source says it does, do I still have to cite the secondary source, since they did the work of finding the primary source"
    – Ovi
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 16:51
  • 3
    You quote whoever you are quoting. If you say that X says that Y said, then you quote X. If you just want to say what Y said, then quote them directly. You can, of course, quote both individually—but then you would need to provide individual citations. And it would only be meaningful if there were some difference between the secondary source and the primary source. But if you quote the primary source, then you are not quoting the secondary source, and you cannot claim that you are. Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 18:06
  • @JasonBassford Thanks for your response. However, I am a little worried because in the question on english.se that I linked, (if I understood the situation correctly) the OP is being prosecuted by his university for doing just that. It does make sense to me that being 100% fair, I should cite source X, since without source X I would never have read source Y and found the relevant quote. What do you think? english.stackexchange.com/questions/123797/…
    – Ovi
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 18:19
  • 2
    When you quote somebody, you give a citation for the specific person you've quoted. If the quote is "In his work, Z, Y said that 'A and B,' " then those exact words are coming from X, not from Y. If all you're quoting is "A and B," then you can quote any source you want, so long as those are the exact words used by the source you cite, and that context is explained in your narrative text. If you want a more specific answer, you're going to have to provide an exact piece of text, including narrative and quotation, along with the different possible sources involved. Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 18:34

2 Answers 2


What about option 3?

Go to "Y" read it yourself, and ensure it hasn't been taken out of context and its context is correct for what you need yourself. Having written and published several academic papers, this is exactly what I have done. This also prevents your findings from being inadvertently false based on someone-else's twisting of words or data. I have found this to be the most efficient and honourable means of citing sources as well as giving credit where credit is due.


The accepted answer to your link quotes a Yale article:

If the source you’re reading quotes another text, and you want to use that quoted material in your own essay, you must give credit to the author who originally selected the quotation.

You'll notice that, in my answer, I credited the accepted answer, as well as the Yale article. Furthermore, it doesn't hurt to cite both!

So a good rule of thumb is to cite both of them.

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