skip to content

Transkills: supporting transition to University


This package has been designed specifically for undergraduate students in the Biological Sciences. Information is organised according to expectations at each stage of your course. As your reading broadens, so will the external sources you need to acknowledge, so you need to be aware of the differing conventions throughout your course.

Why reference? 

  • It is established good academic practice to ensure that you adequately acknowledge the work and concepts of others.
  • It is important that you develop good practices right from the start of your course, which will be needed for your assessed work in later years.
  • Your mark in assessed work will be affected if you fail to make appropriate reference to the sources you have consulted/used in accordance with the referencing conventions in your subject or the guidelines issued by your department.

When to reference

It is important to understand the distinction between ‘assumed’ and ‘non-assumed’ knowledge.

Assumed knowledge: An example is the structure of DNA, which is now generally assumed to be a double helix and which means there is no need to reference Watson and Crick (1953). Similarly, there is no need to reference conventional diagrams such as the pathway of glycolysis. In general, material in first year lecture notes, as well as in core textbooks, will be assumed knowledge.

Non-assumed knowledge: As you move into the second and third years, there will be an increasing number of cases where an individual author proposes an explanation for a particular concept and you will need to quote this explanation directly. Normally such cases involve recent and possibly contested knowledge, where different authors may have different theories to explain particular observations. It may be possible that you will need to refer to theories by a particular name, e.g. Grimes’ theory of the relationship between species richness and site productivity.

What to reference

There is an important distinction between primary and secondary sources (although the distinction between the two may become rather blurred at times!):

Primary sources: typically these are research papers, which represent the original publication of research findings by the person who carried out the work.

Secondary sources: typically these are review articles which draw together the information from a number of primary sources. Secondary sources should not be referenced as a substitute for the primary source for a particular piece of information. However, a secondary source might include a novel hypothesis derived from consideration of the results in primary sources when it would be referenced as a primary source.

How to reference

A piece of written work can be referenced using two main methods, defined here as follows:

Bibliography: a list of the sources of information which were consulted and on which the information content is based. This might be more appropriate to written work in Part I.

Reference list: a list of specific references (which may be primary and secondary sources) referred to at specific places in the writing. This will be essential for dissertations and projects in Part II.

Note that you may find these terms used inter-changeably in a variety of referencing conventions.