Monday, 6 December 2021

How to APA secondary sources

When we are citing someone whom a textbook has cited, who should we cite? For example, in the book, "Understanding Careers" by Inkson et al., do we cite Inkson et al., or the people who Inkson et al. are talking about? While I have written on this topic before (here), I thought it worth another explore.

The American Psychological Association says that a secondary source is "content first reported in another source" (2019, p. 258). So if the book or journal we are reading is citing someone else, it is called a secondary source.  

Many students fall into the trap of wanting to cite the primary source, when they have only read the secondary one. What we need to do is to cite the book that we have read. If we have read the secondary source, we cite the secondary source. We don't pretend we have read the primary author when we haven't. 

If we have been reading Inkson, then we should cite Inkson (the secondary source), even though Inkson et al. are citing the primary source (Levinson). If we mention the primary source's name - Levinson - then we have two choices. We can either: 

  • cite the source as (Inkson et al., 2015); or 
  • we can cite it as (Inkson et al., 2015, citing Levinson et al., 1978).

Hope that helps!



  • American Psychological Association (2019). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association: The official guide to APA style (7th ed.). Author.
  • Inkson, K., Dries, N., & Arnold, J. (2015). Understanding Careers (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications Ltd.
  • Levinson, D. J., Darrow, C., Klein, E., Levinson, M. & McKee, B. (1978). The Seasons of a Mans Life. Knopf.

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