Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

This section outlines some basic formatting conventions that you need to apply when referencing. The sections listed below outline how to avoid many common formatting errors when referencing.


Although in academia it is conventional to refer to your own, previously published work, it is not good practice to refer to a previous assignment written by yourself in a new piece of work, whether that be directly quoting or paraphrasing.

It is, of course perfectly acceptable to re-use references / information sources which you have used in an earlier piece of work so long as you re-phrase the information in the new document and reference it fully.

f you are bound by a professional code of conduct (for example, the Nursing & Midwifery Council), you may need to reference sensitive or confidential material which needs to be anonymised.  You can use terms such as ‘Placement hospital’ or ‘Placement school’ rather than institutional names.

  • Anonymised institution [in square brackets]
  • Year produced (in round brackets)
  • Anonymised title (in italics) [use square brackets for the anonymised part]
  • Location (use the county if the town may identify a specific institution)
  • Anonymised producer or publisher [in square brackets]

In text:

The patient was moved in accordance with the local Trust moving and handling policy (Placement hospital, 2015).


In reference list:

[Placement hospital] (2015) [Placement hospital] moving and handling policy. Bedfordshire: [Placement hospital].

Some students experience problems around plagiarism because they do not make it clear how they have reached certain conclusions. Usually, this is because they do not discuss how information fits together and has informed their thinking.

When you research your assignment you are likely to find that some sources you read will agree or disagree. When writing your assignment it is important to indicate if there is a consensus or a lack of agreement around the areas that you discuss, as this will allow you to construct an argument and justify points that you make. The following outlines a basic method for connecting references together and from this presenting a valid point:

Step 1 - Connect the references together

There are a number of words/phrases that you can use to indicate agreement or disagreement between sources. If you find there is agreement or disagreement between sources you might want to discuss if there are factors that could explain this (design of a study, where work was conducted or when work was completed). You may find that you need to place more emphasis upon a particular source because it is a better piece of evidence (based on how applicable it is or how the work was conducted).

Words to show agreement:
  • Likewise
  • Similarly
  • In addition
  • Furthermore
  • This is supported by
Words to show disagreement:
  • In contrast
  • As opposed to
  • However
For example:

Jones (2008) reported that study skills teaching can help students to improve their assignments. This was supported by Tudor (2009) who found that study skill workshop attendance was associated with higher degree class.

Step 2 – Consider what the references say collectively

After you have connected references together, you should acknowledge what they collectively tell you about the area you are addressing. Again, there are a number of words/phrases you can use to show that you are doing this. For example:

  • Therefore
  • Based on this
  • Together, this would suggest that
  • Consequently, it appears
  • Collectively, this implies
For example:

Jones (2008) reported that study skills teaching can help students to improve their assignments. This was supported by Tudor (2009) who found that study skill workshop attendance was associated with higher degree class. Together, this would suggest that participation in core skills development training can influence student success.

NB. In the above examples, the student has paraphrased the views of the authors which s/he has consulted. If you wish to quote directly from one or more sources, you would need to insert the page number(s) within the citations and insert quotation marks around the quoted text. 

Frequently, you may need to cite more than one work by the same author. This is not a problem when these are published in different years. However, if you use two sources that are written by the same author and published in the same year you need to distinguish between them.

To do this, you should attach a lower-case letter of the alphabet to the publication date, starting with 'a' then 'b' etc.

The letter used is determined by the alphabetical list of references at the end of the document, not the order in which the sources appear in the body of your assignment.

The following is an example of how you would reference two sources written by the same author and published in the same year in your assignment text and reference list:

In text:

Official guidance on consent (Department of Health, 2001b), coupled with the policy aim of improving social care services (Department of Health, 2001a) led to changes…
In reference:

Department of Health (2001a) Improving older people's services: inspection of social care services for older people. London: The Stationery Office.

Department of Health (2001b) Seeking consent: working with older people. London: The Stationery Office.

The convention of attributing or referencing the work of a prominent author can be a very useful way of supporting your own opinions and showing how these have developed through your reading. If there are experts that support what you are writing then referencing their work will establish the validity of your own viewpoint.

One reason why students experience problems around plagiarism is because they do not clearly indicate in their assignment where information has come from. This is commonly because they do not place references in the correct positions in the body of their assignment. The following information applies to both paraphrasing and quoting.

Start of a sentence

You normally put a reference at the start of a sentence if you want to discuss an author’s work over more than one sentence. You should then refer back to the author in following sentences. For example:

Jones (2008) found……. This author also noted……… Likewise …

End of a sentence

You should place a reference at the end of a sentence whenever you want to evidence a statement that you have made within a single sentence. The next sentence that you write will not refer to further information from this source. For example:

Study skills can help students to improve their grades (Smith, 2009).

What is a secondary reference?


A secondary reference is when you refer to a piece of work that was cited in a source that you have read – i.e. you did not read the original.

When writing an assignment, it is good practice to always use the original source of information whenever possible (the primary reference).

It is bad academic practice to habitually use secondary referencing. However, sometimes it will not be possible to get hold of a primary source (for example, because it is out of print). In such instances, it is possible to use a secondary reference.

In-text citation:

You need to cite both sources, using either "quoted in" or "cited in" depending on whether the author of the work you are reading is directly quoting or paraphrasing (summarising) the original text.

Citing when the author has directly quoted the original

Carson and Fairbairn (2002, quoted in Ross, 2012, p. 20) describe research as a "language game".

Citing when the author has paraphrased (summarised) the original

Carper (1978, cited in Ross, 2012) describes the importance of knowledge gained from experience.

Reference list:

If you were unable to read the original work yourself (i.e. Carson and Fairbairn, or Carper), then you do not include them in your reference list. They appear in the in-text citation only; you would then reference the work you have read (Ross) following the usual format for whatever type of material it is (the item used in this example is an ebook).

Ross, T. (2012) A survival guide for health research methods. Maidenhead: Open University Press

Use of author titles and qualifications (Doctor, Professor, Sir, Lord)

Both in text and in your reference list you do usually not need to include authors' personal titles or qualifications. For example:

Professor Alan Sinclair, MSc MD FRCP

In text:
Sinclair (2000) stresses the need for medical professionals to be able to diagnose depression in older adults.
Reference list:
Sinclair, A. (2000) 'Diabetes in old age: changing concepts in the secondary care arena', Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 34 (3), pp.240-244

When you use references in your assignment text make sure that you have placed your brackets in the correct place. The easiest way to check this is to read the sentence out loud but miss out everything that is written in brackets.

The following example is incorrect:

By the late 1930s, Technicolor filming techniques were becoming more widespread in Hollywood Finler (2003).

The following example is correct:

By the late 1930s, Technicolor filming techniques were becoming more widespread in Hollywood  (Finler, 2003).

When writing an assignment it is not good academic practice to repeat what you have already said. If you find that there are a number of references that are saying exactly the same thing you should make the point once and use all of the sources of information as your evidence.

Step 1 – Set the context

To make a point that is supported by several authors you need to start your sentence by indicating that several pieces of work have been conducted around this area. This can be done in a number of ways. For instance:

  • Previous work has shown that
  • It has been established that
  • Research has found that
  • It has been reported that

Step 2 – List the evidence

You need to indicate all of the references that support the sentence you have written. You should do this by writing down the surname and publication year of each source of information, listed in date order, starting with the oldest reference. You should separate each source using a semi-colon and wrap all of this information in brackets. For instance:

(Hughes, 2003; Jones, 2006; Smith, 2009)

Step 3 – Insert the evidence

You need to place your evidence within the sentence that you have written. For instance:

  • Previous work (Hughes, 2003; Jones, 2006; Smith, 2009) has shown
  • It has been established (Hughes, 2003; Jones, 2006; Smith, 2009) that
  • Research (Hughes, 2003; Jones, 2006; Smith, 2009) has found that
  • It has been reported (Hughes, 2003; Jones, 2006; Smith, 2009) that
This guide uses the UoB-Harvard system. Always consult your unit handbook or tutor to make sure you are using the correct system for the unit. Some subjects use other systems.
Find out more here >>>

Library on social media

Library blogs




Our Tweets: @uoblibrary