June 23, 2010 1:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm writing a research paper for a professional writing course, and need to use APA citation guidelines. Can I use information from sources that cite previous sources?

My paper is about breastfeeding rates among certain demographics. I've found numerous studies that have great info and I'm pulling lots of citations from those. I also want some citations from big-name medical journals and organizations, but I'm finding that most of the information in those publications cites back to some previous work or study.

I want a few big juicy quotes like "Breastfeeding has been shown to increase cognitive function", but it seems like every example of this that I find cites a previous work. Is there any acceptable way to quote from an article that is itself citing another work, or do I have to try and find the original source?
posted by tetralix to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, you need to find the original source. If the article you read ALSO found something, add it to the list of those that found support.
posted by k8t at 1:26 PM on June 23, 2010

You don't have to cite the original studies if the source you're citing is a meta-analysis. It is sufficient to describe the parameters of the meta-analysis (e.g. number of studies analyzed, methodology used, etc.).
posted by mr_roboto at 1:31 PM on June 23, 2010

(For instance, in citing this meta-analysis, you would not need to cite all 11 of the studies it analyzed.)
posted by mr_roboto at 1:37 PM on June 23, 2010

If you're making general claims and there's one really good recent review then you can put 'recently reviewed by xxxx et al in 2008'. If you're talking about specific findings then always go back to the original. But in the former case you want to read the original research anyway to make sure the review article is correctly interpreting and summarising the literature (plus I'm not sure that your comment about cognitive function is general enough to just quote a review, it sounds to me like something you will want to back up). If it's a (good) meta-analysis then that can also be used to back up a claim and you deal with it as mr_roboto mentioned.

As an example of why you need to go back to the original research: one of the essay questions I was assigned in an MSc level class at Uni was to review recent literature about a specific topic and we were given a big, comprehensive review article to get us started. I'm sure students wrote their review entirely by picking out stuff from that article because there was more than enough for our word limit. But I also checked the original research and it turned out that one of the key papers mentioned had been totally misinterpreted. When you read the research article it was really obvious that they didn't mean what the review article claimed at all, so I put the correct interpretation in my essay (with reference to the original article of course). I can only imagine it was chosen on purpose as that lecturer was known for being a really hard marker and giving tricky assignments. I got an A+ for my essay.

Mistakes in interpretation happen way more often than you'd expect, or even just having results interpreted overly optimistically or twisted slightly to fit an agenda, and since your topic is kind of controversial and agenda ridden I'd be very wary of making solid juicy claims without reading and understanding all the primary evidence.
posted by shelleycat at 1:48 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if reading all the original stuff is way outside the scope of your papee and you just want to make a point in passing then you can weasel word it. Xxxx et al in 2008 claimed that breastfeeding increased cognitive function. Then if someone wants to see what the claims are and what supports them they can go read xx et al themselves. But you can't then pretend that the claim is proven or that you're making it, this would only work for something mentioned in passing before you move on to your own thesis (with it's supporting primary references). Also the paper would have to make that interpretation explicitly, not all review papers do.
posted by shelleycat at 1:52 PM on June 23, 2010

The info for the originally cited source should be at the end of the source you're reading... Just plug it into Google Scholar or your school library search engine to see if you have access to it.
posted by ShadePlant at 1:56 PM on June 23, 2010

For general APA questions it's always helpful to look at the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).

As to this specific question, I think k8t's advice about finding the original source is the "best" way to do it, but that you can also do something like:

"Breastfeeding has been shown to increase cognitive function" (Smith, 2001).
For this example, let's say Smith (2001) is the original source that you're unable to find and that you found the citation in Jacobs (2009). In your works cited section you'd use the Smith citation information from Jacobs' reference page and then say "as cited in Jacobs (2009) and basically do a citation within a citation:

Smith, P. (2001). Breastfeeding and cognitive development. Journal of Child Development. 13(1). 245-253. As cited in Jacobs, B. (2009). The importance of breastfeeding. Pediatrics. 46(5). 1123-1138.

Or something along those lines (it's summer and I'm already a little rusty on some of the details of italicization and periods, etc.

That said, it's not always looked kindly upon when an author pulls a quote like that because there's the possibility that you might be quoting it out of context due to laziness on the part of the source you're using. In other words, what if Jacobs misquoted or used the quote inappropriately? You'd be on the line for his or her mistake. In the real world that's hard to follow up on every citation without making a journey deep into the bowels of the library on occasion.

Either way, good luck on your paper!
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 1:56 PM on June 23, 2010

I'm pretty sure the reference citation Quizicalcoatl gave as an example is wrong. But, to be sure I just looked this up in my APA Publication Manual and this is what it says about secondary sources (besides use them sparingly):

"Give the secondary source in the reference list; in text, name the original work and give a citation for the secondary source" (p. 178).

So, to use Quizicalcoatl's examples... In the text you would would write something like: According to Smith (2001) blah blah blah (as cited in Jacobs, 2009).

Then only Jacobs (2009) would be in the reference section.
posted by Nolechick11 at 4:02 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!
posted by tetralix at 6:04 PM on June 23, 2010

So I took my own advice and looked it up in the purdue OWL and tetralix is right. Here's the link. That's what I get for being lazy and relying on memory for my post. Sorry about that.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 7:22 PM on June 23, 2010

Ooops, Nolechick11 is right. I'm clearly not on my game today!
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 7:23 PM on June 23, 2010

« Older I can't look at any more oil-soaked animals.   |   Veteran's Grants Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.