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Health & Medical: Referencing - Health

A collection of information resources and guidance for Health & Medical students

Referencing - no problem?

Referencing the information you use in your assignments is absolutely essential. It can take a while to get used to, but once you've mastered it, good referencing can become a source of free marks! If I could give only one piece of advice about referencing, it would be this:

Do it as you go along! As soon as you start taking notes, write down the reference for the thing you are reading. And as soon as you refer to something in an assignment, add it to your reference list.

This video outlines a few others of my general tips, with the rest of the page going into a bit more detail.

The basics

On all programmes, it is essential to reference everything you use in your written work. Any time you quote from, summarise, paraphrase or discuss something you have read, listened to or watched, you should reference it. This tells the reader where your information comes from, and it ensures that you are not plagiarising (using someone else's words or work without credit).

Different programmes use different referencing styles, but basic principles are the same with two key elements:

In-text citations

In the body of your text, an indication of where the information for a specific sentence or quote comes from. Depending on which referencing style you use, this might be the name of the author of the information source and the year it was written, or it might be a number. For example, Harvard uses author and date, whereas Vancouver uses a number system.

Reference list

At the end of the assignment, a list of references. For author-date systems, this will be in alphabetical order (by the author or creator of each information source). For numerical systems, this will be in numerical order. 

The list will contain absolutely everything you have referenced in your text, and nothing else.

Cite Them Right

Blue cover of a book - Cite Them RightCite Them Right is a useful guide to referencing. We have copies in the library, and all 3 of the universities on campus also have access to an electronic version. 

It is best known for covering Harvard-style referencing, in the format used by most of the programmes on campus, but is also covers many other styles.

Both the book and the website give examples of how to reference almost any type of information, from books and journal articles to Tweets, musicals and birth certificates. In each case, it gives a bullet-point list and at least one example. The web version also has a template that you can use.

It is definitely worth getting to know Cite Them Right - it is what librarians turn to for referencing queries as well! If you are not sure where to find your university's link to Cite Them Right Online, go to the Cite Them Right website and click Login at the top right. Search for the name of your university and select it to gain full access.

Some brief guides to referencing:

Referencing official sources

For the most part, references for assignments fall into the categories of books/chapters, journal articles and web pages. However, some official sources of information can cause confusion. 

Clinical guidelines from NICE are essentially referenced in the same way as web pages (as they are published on the web), but should include the guideline number as well as the title. The date given should be the "last updated" date. You must also include the date that you accessed the guideline, as they do get updated. Harvard (Cite Them Right) style example:

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2020) Acute coronary syndromes. NG185. Available at: (Accessed: 7 December 2020).


Black text on white background: BNFBritish National Formulary (BNF/BNFC)

The key thing to remember here is that BNF is not the author! The author for the BNF is the Joint National Formulary Committee. they should be named as author in both your in-text citation (if using Harvard) and reference list. This is true whether you are using the print copy or have electronic access to BNF.

If using the print copy (or an ebook version of it), be sure to state which edition of the BNF you are using. If using electronic access via the NHS, be sure to state the date that you accessed the specific page. This is important due to how frequently the BNF is updated.

Top tips for referencing

  • Reference as you go: Write out quotes (if your're using them) exactly, make note of page numbers and add items to your reference list as soon as you use them in your essay.
  • Be sure of style: Make sure you know which referencing style you are expected to use, and take a look at a guide to how to use it. If you have a choice about style, make sure that you stick to one consistently.
  • Paraphrasing is better: Although quotes are useful for things like definitions, in most cases it is better to paraphrase or summarise the sources you are using. This allows you to demonstrate that you understand what you have read, and also tends to take up fewer words, allowing you to cover more ground in your assignment.
  • Beware paraphrasing without citing: Using your own expression is good, but you must still align the original idea to a source and its author. Using someone else's ideas without acknowledgement is known as plagiarism, and is taken very serious in the academic world.

Introduction to Harvard style referencing