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Supervisor comment: 'a clear, well-labelled diagram, appropriately placed, will say more than many words'

It is unlikely in your first year that you will need to refer in detail to secondary sources. At most, supervision essays will require you to cite the source of a table or short quotation from a book, lecture notes or reliable internet source. However, good academic writing normally includes information from external sources and it is never too early to get used to making such references. The very best essays would also evaluate and interpret external sources in relation to the argument, but this becomes more relevant as you progress to the second and third year.

Above all, it is important that any external sources you choose to refer to truly contribute, rather than detract from your argument and that you make appropriate reference to these if necessary. Any diagram re-created by hand needs to be clearly drawn and relevant. It should say more than words would; there is no point in wasting whole paragraphs describing what the diagram should already clarify.


Further Reading:

  • Stott, R., Snaith, A., & Rylance, R.(Eds.), 2001: Making Your Case. A Practical Guide to Essay Writing, Harlow, Pearson Education. Chapter 7. Pages 136ff are especially relevant to supervision essays. Find this in the UL
  • Creme, P. & Lea, M., 2007: Writing at University a guide for students. 2nd ed. OUP. pp 63-65 for information on referencing and plagiarism. Useful advice on compiling a database of your references as your studies progress in case you need to return to them at a later stage.
  • Soles, D., 2005: The Academic Essay. How to plan, draft and revise. 2nd ed. Studymates. Chapter 14, Acknowledging sources accurately and completely. Includes a short quiz to test understanding of various referencing methods.
  • Matthews, J. & Matthews, R., 2008: Successful Scientific Writing. 3rd ed. Cambridge University Press. See especially chapter 3, Visual support for the written word. This book is aimed at scientists at all stages of their studies, but its principles are relevant to undergraduates. Advice on selecting 'visual aids' refers mainly to word-processed documents, but there is useful commentary on the overall significance of each option. Find this in the UL
  • Barrass, R., 2007: Scientists must write. 2nd ed. London Routledge. Chapter 10, Illustrations contribute to clarity. Detailed subject-specific guidance on using illustrations. Find this in the UL

Supervisor comment: 'it is better to be open about study difficulties than to resort to plagiarism'

Never before has information been more easily accessible. Within minutes it can seem as though you have everything ever written on a topic at your fingertips. You will undoubtedly find someone who has already uploaded what seems to be a comprehensive response to your latest essay title! However, once you have studied someone else's response it can be very challenging to take your own approach and avoid plagiarising their work. Resorting to such material is also poor preparation for your exams, which depend upon you showing to the examiners that you have a deep knowledge of the subject, which you could not achieve through copying.

Faculties and Departments have their own statements on what constitutes plagiarism, and it is worthwhile checking with your DoS if you are in any doubt. The definitions of the Faculty of Biology and the University can be found from these links.  The University also provides advice on general referencing conventions

It is worthwhile checking with your supervisor or Director of Studies to see if there are any subject-specific expectations. You can also access more information about referencing expectations in Biological Sciences from our pages on Referencing in this website.