How to Cite a Reference Within a Reference in APA Format

Updated July 18, 2017

Citing a reference in American Psychological Association (APA) style becomes even more challenging when you want to include ideas or language that your author borrowed from a primary source. Because you lack first-hand information about that primary source, your source becomes the secondary source. According to the "Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association," use a secondary source rarely, only when you are unable to locate the primary (original) source. If the original has become unavailable, APA guidelines permit an indirect in-text citation, a reference within a reference.

Understand the elements of a typical in-text citation before creating an indirect citation. Following the Purdue Online Writing OWL guidelines, note the citation format that could follow a paraphrase of a 2009 article by Timothy Spengler: (Spengler, 2009). If you use the name Spengler in an introductory phrase and quote his exact words on p. 390, you can generate this citation:

According to Spengler (2009), ". . . " (p. 390).

Assume that Timothy Spengler refers to another source, Susan Ross. Before you use his "second-hand" information, first search for the Ross article. If unavailable, create an indirect citation, states the Manual of the APA.

Add the words "as cited in" to refer to the secondary source, according to the guidelines of the American Psychological Association. The Purdue OWL says that APA format can take several forms.

Create a signal phrase (introductory words) to introduce a quotation from Ross. Follow the quotation with an indirect citation to Spengler:

According to Ross, " . . ." (as cited in Spengler, 2009, p. 390).

Note the commas and period placement in this citation, notes the Purdue OWL.

To paraphrase Ross's ideas, refer to Ross prior to the summary. At the end of the paraphrase, provide the indirect citation to Spengler:

Ross argued that . . . . (as cited in Spengler, 2009), . . .

according to the "Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association."

Cite the full bibliographic information on the References page for the secondary source, Spengler. Do not include Ross, the primary source, states the APA Manual.


With academic online databases, it is often possible to access your author's primary sources and avoid indirect or secondary citations. You may also find links to the original sources within the article. A PDF file from an academic database will provide original page numbers. If you create your references page first, it is easy to copy and paste the first two items (usually the author's name and date) into an in-text citation.


APA format urges but does not require listing page numbers for all of your in-text citations, according to the Purdue OWL. Note that a PDF article will provide accurate, original page numbers. With HTML documents, you may need to refer to a specific paragraph.

Things You'll Need

  • "Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition"
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

With dual degrees in English and learning disabilities, Peg Ehlen has been a full-time English professor most of her life. In addition, she has directed disability services for post-secondary students. Her publications reflect her experience in these fields and her knowledge of psychology, parenting and juvenile diabetes.