Pharma Integrity Hi Res 4

Referencing for material review (Part Two)

I think it is a reasonably safe assumption that when creating materials for any audience the purpose is to provide your audience with enough information that they can make an informed decision. Which is why it may be hard to believe but people don’t always provide the correct information or enough information for the audience to make that informed decision. Below I list a few of the considerations for when and how to cite other sources of information.

Without correct referencing it is impossible to verify if the information cited is correct, or at least interpreted correctly. It is always good to go back to the original source (more on that later) and it is hard to do that if you don’t know what the source is. In my previous article/blog post I focused on the importance of referencing for material review and the positive impact it can have on your material approval timelines. The focus of this piece is on different considerations when referring to source material.


If using an image or a graph, ensure that you give the primary source recognition, i.e. the publication where the image/graph comes from. When adapting a graph or a diagram from a published source the practice is to include “Adapted from Bloggs et al. 2019” or similar. If using an image that is taken from somewhere else, first ensure you have permissions to use the image and then state the source “Source et al”. The reason is two-fold, firstly you are acknowledging that someone else has the copyright of the material and secondly it allows the audience to search for the original source to gain further background information if they wish.


There are different formats for citing references – just keep it consistent. Considerations:

  • All authors or first author followed by et. Al (Bloggs
  • Title of the paper or not
  • Full name of the journal or an abbreviation of the journal (e.g. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences or PNAS)
  • Pages and volume
  • If the paper is not yet published in hard copy and comes up as epub ahead of print, ensure that this gets updated if you are updating a material at a later date.

One of the reasons the year/journal/volume/ page number piece is so important is that you occasionally find experts who are extremely prolific when it comes to writing publications. By not listing the full citation (or checking the citation) you may inadvertently be referring your audience to another piece by that author on a completely different medicine or topic.

For further information on referencing styles see the article from UCL library services here(1), whose sourced their referencing examples from Pears and Shields (2013)(2).


If including a graph from a publication or adapting the graph to include in your material the things to consider are, can your audience glean the information they need from the graph accurately, such as

– Are both axes labelled correctly?

– Can you tell what is being measured?

– Is it clear what the treatments are?

– Is it clear how many patients are in each group?

– Is it clear if patient numbers are declining over time?

– Are the statistics included?


Fig 1. Example of graph showing comparison of medicines with labelled axes

Adapted from Example et al. 2022

Sometimes the graph doesn’t carry all the information such as the dosage of the medicine or the number of patients in each treatment group, as that is contained in the body of the paper. The bar is higher though when you are sharing information, you need to have all that information in one place so that your audience can make that informed decision.

Primary Sources

A frequent occurrence in material review is coming across links to the discussion of a paper or a review paper which cites another source as a reference. It is the initial source that contains the original data and should be the paper that is cited for the simple reason sometimes things get lost in translation or may be outdated. I have come across examples where people have referenced information to something written in the abstract of a poster but when you go back to the source that the abstract got the information from it has been taken out of context. By not going back to the original source you can end up with a dilution of the original information or a different interpretation of the data, which could have serious consequences if something is mis-interpreted. By looking up and referencing the original paper you know that your message is accurate and prevents further distortions of the message further down the line.


Always highlight when you have directly taken text or wording from a different source and attribute it to that source. Add your quotation marks around the text and make sure it is clear who the source is. By directly copying text and not crediting it to the original author or source it is considered plagiarism. (Also consider the context in which you are using the quote, ensure it is in the spirit of the original piece). If amending the wording, you should still cite the source but there is no need for the quotation marks.


Image by Media Design and Media Publishing from Pixabay

Referencing links and webpages

When referencing links and webpages it is important to note that these may change or be updated. As mentioned in my previous post, the correct procedure is to use the most up to date reference or source, one way of ensuring your audience know this is by adding the last accessed date. For example, if citing my previous article it would take the form of:

1. Referencing for material review (Part One): (accessed May 2022)

The benefit here is that not only can the audience tell when the source was last checked (and how up to date the information is), they can also tell if for whatever reason things have changed on the source page, that it most likely happened after this date – for example an SmPC update.

A claim should be based on the information available rather than a claim being written and then trying to find the reference to support it.

In summary whether creating a material or writing a report the same rules apply, give credit where credit is due, make sure you have gone back to the source, make sure it is cited correctly.


1. References, citations and avoiding plagiarism. (last accessed June 2022)

2. Pears, Richard, and Graham J. Shields. Cite Them Right : the Essential Referencing Guide / Richard Pears, Graham Shields. 9th edition. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.

3.Referencing for material review (Part One): (accessed May 2022)

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