How can I use multiple and secondary citations?

This is the third and final lesson about Citation Types. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Review the four citation types in academic-English contexts

– Provide the rules and forms of multiple-source citations

– Provide the rules and forms of secondary citations

Lesson 3

In Lessons 1 and 2 of this short course on citation types, we introduced, discussed and explored in detail both integral and non-integral citations and considered how these types may be used to balance writer and source voice within a paragraph. In this final lesson on the subject, we next turn our attention to the intricacies of multiple-source and secondary citations. Though much less commonly used in academic writing, the accurate use of these two citation types can be somewhat challenging for new university students.

What are multiple-source citations?

There may be occasions when a researcher wishes to include more than one source within a single non-integral citation, such as in the two examples below:

As can be seen in both example (a) and example (b), writer’s may include numerous sources within one multiple-source citation to strengthen the cited information by showing that it is both widely researched and widely believed.


How are multiple-source citations ordered?

While references are commonly ordered alphabetically (from A to Z), multiple-source citations are instead ordered chronologically (by number) and are separated by semicolons (;). As can be seen in example (a), each of the three sources has been included in ascending age, with the youngest source (2016) placed first and the most recent (2019) placed last. However, although the publication years for each source in (a) are different, sometimes this may not be the case. As can be seen in example (c) below, for multiple-source citations in which two or more sources have the same year of publication, an alphabetical ordering will also be necessary – as in the author’s names ‘James’ and ‘Jones’:

Additionally, and as was demonstrated previously in example (b), if the there are multiple sources within one citation written by the same authors, it is unnecessary to repeat those authors’ name. Instead the years of publication can simply be listed between semicolons, as in ‘(Smith 2012; 2016)’. Furthermore, and as is demonstrated in example (d), if both the authors and the years of publication are the same, then the lower-case letters ‘a’ and ‘b’ should be used to distinguish these sources in both the multiple-source citation and the reference list:

What are secondary citations?

Quite different to multiple-source citations are secondary citations. In secondary citations, two sources offering the same information are cited within one integral or non-integral citation – as is shown in examples (e) and (f) below:

While it’s perfectly acceptable to use secondary citations in an essay, students may wish to include them both accurately and sparingly, especially early on in a bachelor’s degree. As the following diagram shows, the reason for this is that secondary citations are used to introduce information from primary sources that the writer has only read about in a secondary source:

What the above secondary citations show is that the writer read Jones (2019) but didn’t read Smith (2012). In other words, the writer only read about Smith’s 2012 research in the secondary source Jones (2019) and did not read that source directly.

The reason that secondary citations should be used sparingly in an essay is because researchers should read and cite primary sources wherever possible, particularly as their academic career develops and progresses. If, for example, you only read about the primary source Smith (2012) in the secondary source Jones (2019), then you will likely be reading an interpretation of Smith’s 2012 research. Instead, by reading the information in the original source wherever possible, students will limit the likelihood of misinterpretation and increase accuracy.


How are primary and secondary sources different?

To write secondary citations accurately, students should learn about the differences between primary and secondary sources:

Primary Sources = These are the sources that conduct the original investigations and research, such as journal articles, diaries and interviews.

Secondary Sources = These are the sources that simply describe or discuss the research of other sources. While they may commonly be textbooks or literature reviews, a source can be both primary if it conducts research and secondary if it also discusses the research of other authors.

Good work on completing this short course on citation types. Complete our Lesson 3 activities to check your progress before moving on to our other short courses.

Please note: while there are many different possible referencing styles such as APA or Chicago, all examples demonstrated in this lesson are of the Harvard Style of referencing as described in the book Cite Them Right.

3 of 3 Lessons Completed


Once you’ve completed all three lessons in this short course about Citation Types, you might then wish to download our Lesson Worksheets to check your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

Lesson 1 explores the topic: What are the four types of academic citation? Our Lesson 1 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Lesson 2 explores the topic: Should I mix integral and non-integral citations? Our Lesson 2 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Lesson 3 explores the topic: How can I use multiple and secondary citations? Our Lesson 3 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

To save yourself 2 Marks, click on the button below to gain unlimited access to all of our Citation Types Lesson Worksheets. This All-in-1 Pack includes every lesson, activity and answer key related this topic in one handy and professional PDF.


There are currently no PowerPoint activities, additional teacher resources or audio and video recordings created for this topic. Please come back again next semester.


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