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Pitfall #4: Failing to acknowledge intermediate sources

The issue here is how to acknowledge honestly when you take language from a primary source via a secondary ("intermediate") source without reading the primary source yourself. If you simply copy the reference to the original source but do not show that you found this reference elsewhere, you are implying that you read the original yourself. You are presenting the secondary author's research and reading as your own. This "citation plagiarism" and is dishonest and should be avoided.

For this example we need to use a different source: one that quotes from a primary source. We will use an internet article about Dietrich Bonhoeffer as our source:

Original Source:
Bonhoeffer illustrates this notion of selfless action by contrasting the behavior of Jesus in the New Testament to that of the Pharisee. The Pharisee "…is the man to whom only the knowledge of good and evil has come to be of importance in his entire life…" (Ethics, p.30). Every moment of his life is a moment where he must choose between good and evil (Ethics, p.30). Every action, every judgment, no matter how small, is permeated with the choice of good and evil. He can confront no person without evaluating that person in terms of good and evil (Ethics, p.31). For him, all judgments are moral judgments. No gesture is immune to moral condemnation.

Source: Douglas Huff, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer," Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,


Pitfall #4 - Failing to acknowledge the intermediate source
Bonhoeffer's Ethics defined the Pharisee as "the man to whom only the knowledge of good and evil has come to be of importance in his entire life."1

1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, p. 30.

In this example, the sentence is correctly quoted, but the citation is misleading. It cites only Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, suggesting that the student found this quotation in Bonhoeffer’s writings. It makes no mention of Douglas Huff’s article as the source for the quotation. This is dishonest. A correct citation for this passage should identify Huff as the source for the Bonhoeffer quote.

Pitfall #4 averted - Citation acknowledges the intermediate source with "cited in..."
Bonhoeffer's Ethics definied the Pharisee as "the man to whom only the knowledge of good and evil has come to be of importance in his entire life."1

1Bonhoeffer, Ethics, p. 30, cited in Douglas Huff, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer" (Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy),

Ideally, after you read Huff’s article you will be inspired to read Bonhoeffers’s Ethics for yourself, and you can find the same passage that Huff is quoting. If you do this, then you can cite the Ethics directly without necessarily referring to Huff. But then you must make sure that your citations match the text that you actually read. You may find a different edition (perhaps even a different translation) of the Ethics, with different page numbers, from the one Huff cited. If you want to cite the same passage that Huff cited without adding, “cited in Huff…”, you must find and read the original text yourself, and you must make sure that you quote accurately and give the correct page reference for the edition you are citing.

Even If you do this, remember that you may still be drawing on Huff’s interpretation of Bonhoeffer, in which case you will probably need to cite both authors.