Q: Should I cite the primary sources if I have come across them in a secondary source?

Detailed Question -

When I read through an introduction of an original article by author S(2001), I found it a good source for my literature search. For instance, I came across the following paragraph: “Research has typically addressed modelling and imagery as separate and distinct process. However, several investigators have noted that modeling and imagery are actually quite similar (Druckman & Swets, 1988; Feltz & Landers, 1983; Housner, 1984; Mccullagh & Weiss, 2001; Ryan & Simons, 1983; Vogt, 1995). Both of these processes include the use of cognitive representations.” I would like to use this idea in my manuscript in this way: “Cognitive process of motor imagery is similar to the that of modeling(reference source will be mentioning here in this bracket)” and then I would like to reveal the reference source to support where the idea is from. However, I thought it’s okay to cite the source from the author S(2001) only but I got to know he actually also cited multiple sources from other sources. Here are my questions: I would like to know whether it’s okay to cite only the source from author S or whether I have to mention other sources that the author S had cited in his manuscript all together. To sum up my options: 1) Cite only author S as my source. This will definitely reduce my time spent on writing my paper. But the concern is: What if the idea was cited from other authors who thought about it in the first place? This is very confusing for me. 2) Cite both S and all the sources S has used– it seems the most ideal case. But when I consider the whole writing process it will take too long to complete it if I should find all of references of the author S have cited and review all of them. 3) Cite both S and the original sources, but mentioning only some of the references. But here is another concern - I cited the source from author S but author S also cited that from author A, but the author A also cited from author B. What am I supposed to do then? I would appreciate if you can provide me a clear answer that would end my confusion.

1 Answer to this question

Ideally, you should read the original or primary source that author S (your secondary source) has cited in his paper before you use it. But in this case, the authors that S has cited are also not the primary source, since they have also taken the idea from other multiple sources. As you have rightly figured out, it will take a long time for you to track down and read all the original authors. However, you cannot cite only author S as the original idea was not his. Therefore, I think it would be good if you clarify that you have come across this idea through S and also mention the sources that S cites. For instance, you can use any one of the following options: 

  • “As author S points out in his article XXX (2001), according to authors A, B, and C, the cognitive process of motor imagery is similar to that of modelling."
  • "According to authors A,B, and C (as cited in S, 2001), the cognitive process of motor imagery is similar to that of modelling."

However, you need not read all the works that S has cited, since you are not mentioning them as your primary source. If you cite as I've explained in the examples above, it will be clear that you have read only author S's work and your observations are based on his understanding of the other sources.