Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Succeeding in postgraduate study

8.2 Working with secondary (or indirect) references

At postgraduate level you are typically expected to have read widely and consulted the primary literature. On some occasions, you may find that you want to refer to information or a direct quotation taken from a source that has been cited in an article you have read. This constitutes a secondary (or indirect) reference, in that you have not read the original piece of work, but are citing what the author of the article you have read has said about this other author’s work.

In such cases, you need to make it clear you have not consulted the secondary reference, but are citing this from the context of the primary reference you have read. For example:

‘According to Rüggeberg et al., as cited by Knudson et al. (2010), …’


‘As noted in Knudson et al. (2010), Rüggeberg et al. showed that…’

By using phrases such as ‘as cited by’ and ‘as noted in’, you are clearly indicating that you have not read the work by Rüggeberg et al., but are referring to the interpretation of this work by Knudson et al. As the paper by Rüggeberg et al. is a secondary reference, it should not be included in your final reference list. Your final reference list should only contain resources you have read (i.e. your primary references). Given the potential for misinterpretation and/or misrepresentation of another author’s work, you should use secondary references sparingly and avoid them if possible. If you do need to use a secondary reference, make this very clear in your text.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus