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Other Question about writing a scientific paper

  1. Jun 4, 2017 #1
    I am currently writing my first scientific paper, but I've never really had any proper training on the specifics of writing one particularly in citing references. The scenario is this:

    Say I'm reading paper A that wrote about result X which was cited from paper B. I also want to cite result X but I have no access to paper B. Can I just cite result X from paper B even though I haven't read it?

    I guess one could just say nobody will really know if I read it or not, and probably not care. But is it considered a bad practice to do that? Thanks!
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  3. Jun 5, 2017 #2

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    Of course not. You should read it if you're going to cite it. How else will you know exactly what it says?
  4. Jun 5, 2017 #3


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    What is the level/goal of this paper? Writing for a high school physics class? For publication in a technical jounal?
  5. Jun 5, 2017 #4


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    The main thing that I would be concerned about isn't so much whether it's bad form, but rather that you understand the details of the particular result.

    Without going to the source of the information you run the risk of playing a kind of academic telephone game. Paper A said that paper B said X. There might be conditions that paper A didn't bother to mention, or paper A might have misinterpreted something, etc. You don't want to be the one who propagates something that's not correct.

    There are times when you might not always go all the way back to the source. A review article, for example, might summarize the results from multiple sources and it might be more appropriate for you to cite the results in aggregate.

    If you're having trouble obtaining a copy of your paper, speak to one of your university librarians. Those people work miracles on a regular basis.
  6. Jun 5, 2017 #5
    I've seen papers misrepresented in citations too many times to take a citing paper's word for it regarding what is in the original paper.

    Get the original paper that you intend to cite. Librarians are pretty good at finding things that the average scientist cannot. I've also had success with the following approaches:
    1. Email the author of the original paper and ask for a copy.
    2. Look for the original paper at the original author's web site (institutional, ResearchGate, etc.)
    3. Do a google search on the complete title.
    4. Do a google search on the first sentence (exact and in its entirety) from the abstract.
    5. Do a google search on the first sentence (exact and in its entirety) from the first paragraph.
    6. Do a google scholar search for the author. Often, the important point for which you need a citation is not only found in one single paper, it is repeated in several papers by the same author. Find and read similar papers which you can find complete copies of and cite one of them as support for the point you need supported.
    7. If all else fails, cite in a way that makes it clear you do not have access to the original but are depending on the interpretation of an intermediate source. Many journals frown upon this, but they do have a style for it when absolutely necessary.

    Keep in mind, when you cite an obscure and hard to find source, if anyone is reading your paper carefully, you are likely to get email requests for copies of that source. It will be embarrassing if you ever have to admit not only that you do not have a pdf of the source, but that you never even really read it in the first place.
  7. Jun 7, 2017 #6
    Thank you for your very instructive advice! I really appreciate it. Have a good day!
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