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Materials Science & Metallurgy: Referencing Guide

Referencing - An Introduction

Referencing is an important aspect of good academic practice. It demonstrates the breadth of your reading, indicates how you use the work of others to support your ideas and directs your reader to other useful information. It also helps to you to avoid any accusations of plagiarism and academic misconduct. This is taken very seriously at the University of Cambridge so it's important to take steps to get things right. 

Whatever stage of your academic career you are at you need to make sure that your work adheres to ethical standards. Part of this involves acknowledging the ideas of others where these have informed your work, for example to illustrate a point you are making. This is done by including a reference to the original creator/source of the work so that your readers can follow it up if needed. Adding references to the work of others helps to strengthen your own arguments and distinguish between your own ideas and existing work, showcasing the contribution you are making to the scholarly debate.  

Academic integrity and avoiding plagiarism

Academic integrity is a key element of good scholarly practice. It is an approach which brings together a range of principles and promotes the importance of acting ethically at all stages of the research process to avoid academic misconduct. The University of Cambridge defines academic misconduct as 'gaining or attempting to gain, or helping others to gain or attempt to gain, an unfair academic advantage in formal University assessment, or any activity likely to undermine the integrity essential to scholarship and research'. It includes actions such as plagiarism, self-plagiarism, contract cheating, collusion, impersonation, fabrication of results and failure to meet ethical obligations.

Good referencing practices is the best way to avoid accusations of academic misconduct. Referencing clearly identifies your sources and shows which ideas are your own and which are taken from elsewhere. Assignments and other work is often run through plagiarism detection software such as TurnItIn which identifies matches with previously published work. An assessor will look at the resulting report to determine whether these matches have been correctly attributed to their original creators. There are severe penalties for academic misconduct, even if this was unintentional, so it is important to ensure good referencing practices.#

AI and referencing

New AI tools such as ChatGPT have been in the news in recent months and you may have questions about how these could be used as part of your studies. The University of Cambridge has clear guidelines which class the use of ChatGPT and other AI tools a form of academic misconduct as they do not represent the work of the individual student. You should also be wary of any references supplied by AI tools as these may be inaccurate or false.

Do I need to reference this?

Broadly speaking, you should reference any material or ideas that are not your own. This helps to clearly define your own contributions to the work. More guidance can be found in the boxes below.

You should aim to reference any material you use in your own work which you have not created yourself. This includes a broad range from text and images through to conference presentations and recordings. This includes:

  • When directly copying or quoting sections of work by other people. Remember that there may be a limit to the amount you can use.
  • When using someone else's ideas even if you are not using their words, for example to discuss the development of a theory.
  • When using data gathered from interviews, emails or conversations.
  • When reporting facts or figures to support an argument.

There may be times during your research that you want to refer to a previous piece of your own work. It is good academic practice to reference your own work, and helps avoid self-plagiarism. Self-referencing shows that you have not just lifted text from previous work, and demonstrates that you have integrated it into your current research. Self-plagiarism does not apply to drafts of your work. You are likely to create several drafts, some of which you may show to your tutors for comment. This is an acceptable academic practice and any revisions prior to submission are not self-plagiarism.

You may need to refer to materials which have not been formally published. Unpublished materials can include letters, emails and interviews. Whilst a reader may not be able to access these sources, it is still important to cite them as sources that are the work of others. Resources such as lecture notes, Although you should look for wider sources, if you need to use lectures or materials from the VLE you should also reference these.

There are some instances when it is not necessary to include a formal reference:

  • When you are writing your own observations or experiment results.
  • When you are writing about your own experiences, thoughts, comments or conclusions.
  • When you are evaluating or offering your own analysis.

When you are using common knowledge or generally accepted facts. This is knowledge that can be found in numerous places and is likely to be known to a lot of people e.g. the sky is blue, the chemical symbol for iron is Fe. This knowledge will vary by discipline so you can always check this with your supervisor.

Specific advice for (subject) students. MSM recommend either Harvard or Vancouver

Cite Them Right Logo  An invaluable tool for referencing

Cite Them Right contains information on how to reference many types of resources, such as books, journal articles, and websites along with more unusual sources such as social media posts, datasets, and unpublished materials. Cite Them Right can be accessed via the above link, or via the A-Z Database  use your Raven username and pasword to access the resource.

Manual referencing vs reference managers

Whether you compile references by hand or online is a personal decision and there are pros and cons to each approach. You can compile your references manually by recording the information needed to create a full reference/citation when you use sources. This information is then formatted into the correct style and inserted into a final document along with in-text citations. Whilst referencing in this fashion may take longer it can be helpful you have a lot of unusual sources which may require adjusting a referencing format. If you would prefer to create and format your references automatically you can use a reference manager. These digital tools help you to collect, store and organise your references so you can keep track of your reading, store your notes alongside the original sources and automatically generate citations and bibliographies in a range of styles.  

Whichever method you choose it is important to check your references for accuracy. Mistakes can be made when adding information manually and although reference managers will do a lot of the hard work for you, the references they provide are only as good as the data they are based on. 

Reference Management

Reference managers can be an excellent way to track your references and generate your citations and bibliography without manually writing them. There's a few out there to choose from, this section highlights 3 of the ones we see most commonly in the Library. 


Zotero is free, open-source reference management software. It is compatible with both Mac, Windows and Linux, and works with Firefox and Chrome browsers. Below are some resources to get you started with Zotero:

If you would like to learn more about Zotero, or are having problems using it, our Research Support Team can offer assistance


A reference management tool by Clarivate. University of Cambridge staff and students can download EndNote 20 here (you will need your Raven username and password). Below are some resources to get you started with EndNote:



A free reference manager and social network which encourages collaboration. Some Mendeley resources are available below:


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