Good academic practice & referencing

Good academic practice is the use of a formal, academic style. This includes review of appropriate reference materials that are related to the reading lists of the modules that you are studying. You may choose to include other reference sources, but you need to make sure they are published, scholarly works.

It also includes the use of a recommended referencing style, such as Harvard, APA, MHRA, MLA, IEEE, IOP, Footnote/Endnote, or others. The guide your department uses can be found in the Departmental Reference Guides section below. It may also be found through other resources your department provides (e.g. Blackboard modules).

If you are in doubt as to where any information is or how it should be used, speak to somebody about it.

Definitions of good practice

Aberystwyth University Statement on Good Academic Practice

Good Academic Practice


Understand what the question is asking for

Key content words that are related to the topic or theme of the task. These are directly related to the subject matter.

Fixed process words that direct what you have to do. These are words like 'discuss', 'evaluate', 'analyse', etc.

Variable aspects of content or process, which allow you to discuss alternative issues according to your own interpretation or opinion. You can identify these through the wording, e.g. 'using an example of your choice',  

Ambiguities or aspects of the question that are not clearly defined or may be interpreted in more than one way. Ambiguities are not deliberately written into a question. If you are unsure about the focus of the question, ask for advice from a tutor or module coordinator.


How these points could be applied to an actual question

In the question below, there is considerable variation in what you can include in your essay.

Question: 'What is the difference between an entrepreneur and a manager? Discuss the management styles of an entrepreneur.'

Key words: entrepreneur, manager, management styles

Fixed process words: discuss, what is the difference between...? 

Variable aspects: what is the difference between...? 

Ambiguities: whether 'the difference' is singular, or whether there is a range of differences that you can select from and selectively address

Exercise: defining process words (Open University), e.g. analyse, compare, contrast, evaluate, etc. 


Make sure you look at marking criteria before you start the essay

What do you need to do to achieve good marks on the following points?

How do these points vary in each of the different grade categories?

  • Answering the question (focus on main point)
  • Structure of essay or report
  • Objectivity and opinion (support your claims with evidence)
  • Depth of critical discussion (make sure all your paragraphs include statement, supporting evidence and explanation of critical value)
  • Adherence to word count (short essays typically lack points on supporting evidence and explanation)
  • Use and acknowledgment of reference sources (see your department's reference guide below)
  • Accuracy of language and use of formal academic language (avoid media style language, slang, abbreviations and check for repetitive use of words)
  • Layout and presentation
  • Other points


Aberystwyth University Regulations on Academic Practice

Essential aspects of academic practice

Below is a series of PDF guides on specific aspects of academic practice. These guides can be used at any time during your studies and are recommended as essential reading. After consulting these guides, you should compare them directly with your department's style guide to see how you can individualise any of the information to your study needs. We also use extended versions of these guides in courses for students who need extra guidance on Academic Practice.

Departmental reference guides

The main reference styles used at Aberystwyth University include Harvard, APA, MHRA, MLA, IEEE, IOP and Footnote/Endnote. Each department of institute may recommend one or more of these style guides.

Note: there may be small variations among different versions of the same referencing style, especially, for example, with Harvard, which has no definitive, official version.

When you have adopted a set style, be consistent with layout, ordering of information and punctuation.

Check your Blackboard modules and other information resources in your department to find your recommended reference guide. The most updated resource with a combined collection of guides is available at: This page provides an interactive online to working with good academic practice. Within this guide you can find updated links to departmental reference guides (but do check to see if your department has any further information on this):

The official guides for APA, MHRA, MLA and IEEE are linked below, but you should first consult your departmental or Institute guide. 

These guides can be very detailed and extensive. For most assignments you will only need the most common features that refer to the core documents and information expected by your department. If you cannot find examples of how to refer to resources in your departmental guide, official guides can then be very helpful.