The most common way to cite sources is to use a bibliography or "Works Cited" list at the end of your paper. The works cited list includes a citation for each of the sources you used to write your paper. The citations are formatted in a consistent style according to one of several standard citation formats. The two most common citation formats for college research papers are: (1) The APA Publication Manual (American Psychological Association) - predominately used in Social Sciences and (2) The MLA Handbook (Modern Language Association) - predominately used in Humanities and Liberal Arts. A third citation format is CMS Handbook (Chicago Manual of Style) and is used primarily in History, but also in Humanities and Social Sciences. Copies of the MLA Handbook (LB 2369 M52 2021), the APA Manual (BF76.7 .P83 2020), and the CMS Handbook (Z253 .U69 2017) are available in the Library stacks and the reference collection. Assistance with writing your paper is available at the VVC Writing Center. Always check with your instructor for the required citation format.
The Bluebook is the style manual used for citing legal documents within the United States. Currently, the 21st edition of the book is published. You can find a copy of the book in Reference KF 245 U55 2020. The following examples have been provided by the Georgetown Law Library.
The precise format of a case citation depends on a number of factors, including the jurisdiction, court, and type of case. You should review the rest of this section on citing cases (and the relevant rules in The Bluebook) before trying to format a case citation for the first time. However, the basic format of a case citation is as follows:
Note: In court documents (briefs, motions) and legal memoranda, a full case name is usually italicized or underlined. In academic legal writing (i.e., a law review article), full case names are generally not underlined or italicized.
Rule 10 (and Rule B10 in the Bluepages) governs how to cite cases. It contains extensive instructions on how to format case citations, and Rule 10 also provides guidance on citing briefs, court filings, and transcripts.
In addition to Rule 10, you may need to consult the following tables in order to format the case citation:
When citing a U.S. Supreme Court case, you must cite to the official reporter, the United States Reports, if the case is published therein (Table 1).
A citation to a case in the United States Reports includes the following five elements:
Here is an example:
Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)
You may need to include a "pinpoint" citation, which is a citation to the page(s) on which the specific material referenced appears. If you need to include a pinpoint citation to, for example, a quotation or the holding of a case, add the page number after the first page.
Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 164 (1973)
United States Reports is an official publication of the United States Government and the preferred reporter to cite for U.S. Supreme Court cases according to The Bluebook. However, there is generally a significant lag between when the Court decides a case and when it is published in the United States Reports. As of November 2017, for example, the most recent volume of the United States Reports contains cases decided in mid-2012. Therefore, you will often need to cite Supreme Court cases that are not yet published in the United States Reports.
In these instances, you cite to the case as published in one of the unofficial Supreme Court reporters, which are published more frequently: Supreme Court Reporter or United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition. The Bluebook dictates that you cite to the Supreme Court Reporter over the United States Supreme Court Reports--Lawyers' Edition (Table 1). The volume and page numbers for each unofficial reporter will be different than those found in the United States Reports.
A citation to a case in the Supreme Court Reporter and the United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition has the same five elements as a citation to the United States Reports, except the reporter abbreviation and volume and page numbers are different. The abbreviation for the Supreme Court Reporter is "S. Ct." and the abbreviation for Lawyers' Edition is "L. Ed." or L. Ed. 2d". Here, for example, are citations to a case that was decided in 2014, but not yet published in the United States Reports as of 2017:
Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014)
Riley v. California, 189 L. Ed. 2d 430 (2014)
Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, cases from the federal courts of appeals are not compiled in an official reporter. In fact, there is no official, government-published reporter for the federal courts of appeals (or federal district courts). Instead, many cases from the courts of appeals are published in West's Federal Reporter. If a court of appeals case is published in the Federal Reporter, The Bluebook dictates that you cite to it (Table 1).
A citation to a court of appeals case in the Federal Reporter includes the following six elements:
Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Corley, 273 F.3d 429 (2d Cir. 2001)
Like the federal courts of appeals, cases from the federal district courts are not compiled in an official reporter. Instead, many cases from the district courts are published in West's Federal Supplement. If a district court case is published in the Federal Supplement, The Bluebook dictates that you cite to it (Table 1).
A citation to a district court case in the Federal Supplement includes the following six elements:
City of Millville v. Rock, 683 F. Supp. 2d 319 (D.N.J. 2010)
Like U.S. Supreme Court cases, state court cases are often published in more than one place. State court cases may be published in an official state reporter by the state, if there is one. State court cases are also published in regional reporters. Regional reporters are commercially published unofficial reporters that contain decisions of appellate courts from states in a particular region of the United States. Table 1 tells you which regional reporter includes cases for each state's courts as well as whether a state court's cases are also published in an official reporter.
Unlike U.S. Supreme Court cases, however, The Bluebook dictates that you generally cite to a case in the unofficial regional reporter, if therein, rather than the official state reporter (Rule 10.3.1(b)). Note that you may need to cite to an official state reporter as well if required by court rules (Rule 10.3.1(a)).
A citation to a case in a regional reporter has the following six elements:
Here is an example of citation to a Supreme Court of Nebraska case in the North Western Reporter 2d:
Beachy v. Becerra, 609 N.W.2d 648 (Neb. 2000)
*You may be wondering why the parenthetical in this citation simply says "Neb." (the abbreviation for Nebraska in Table 10) when it says above that the citation should include both the state and court. The parenthetical only includes the state here because according to Rule 10.4(b), you do not include the name of the court if the court of decision is the highest court in the state. Since the Supreme Court of Nebraska is the highest court in Nebraska, its abbreviation is excluded.
A citation to a case in an official state reporter has the following six elements:
Here is an example of how to cite a Supreme Court of Nebraska case in the Nebraska Reports:
Beachy v. Becerra, 299 Neb. 299 (2000)
*The abbreviations for the court and state are not included in the parenthetical due to Rule 10.2(b). As noted above, the court is omitted if it is the highest court in the state. Additionally, Rule 10.2(b) states that the court and jurisdiction are omitted as well if they are "unambiguously conveyed by the reporter title."
If you are required to cite to a case in an official state reporter, you will generally also need to provide the citation to the case in the regional reporter using what is called a parallel citation. A parallel citation is simply a citation that provides information on where to find a case (or other document) in multiple sources.
A parallel citation to a state court case has the following five elements:
Here is an example of a parallel citation to a Supreme Court of Nebraska case in both the Nebraska Reports and the North Western Reporter 2d:
Beachy v. Becerra, 299 Neb. 299, 609 N.W.2d 648 (2000)
While you will most often cite to cases in reporters, only a small percentage of cases are actually designated for publication by a court and published in a reporter. Many cases are unpublished, but still available in databases, such as Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg Law, or elsewhere. Rule 10.8.1 describes how to cite an unpublished case and there are examples in the chart at the beginning of Rule 10.
A citation to an unpublished case that is available in Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg Law, or another "widely used electronic database" (Rule 10.8.1(a)) has the following five elements:
United States v. Bennett, No. 05-CR-6050 CJS, 2005 WL 2709572 (W.D.N.Y. Oct. 21, 2005)
If an unpublished case is not available in an electronic database and only available as a slip opinion, the citation is the same, except without the database identifier:
United States v. Bennett, No. 05-CR-6050 CJS (W.D.N.Y. Oct. 21, 2005)
For how to cite specific pages in unpublished opinions, see Rule 10.8.1(a) and 10.8.1(b).
Thus far, this guide has described how to cite cases in long form, i.e., how you cite a case for the first time in a document. Because you will often cite a case (and other legal materials) multiple times in a document, The Bluebook has established a "short form" for use in subsequent citations.
The main rule that describes the short form for cases is Rule 10.9. This rule also explains when you can use a short form for cases already cited in full in law review articles. You should consult Bluepages Rule B10.2 for when you can use a short form for cases already cited in full in briefs, filings, and legal memoranda.
In general, a short form for a case has the following elements:
Other short forms are acceptable as long as it's clear which case you are citing. Here are examples of acceptable short forms for Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Corley, 273 F.3d 429 (2d Cir. 2001), assuming you were referencing text on page 435 of the case:
Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Corley, 273 F.3d at 435
Corley, 273 F.3d at 435
273 F.3d at 435
Id. at 435
Id. is used when the case appeared in the immediately preceding citation and the citation included only that case. Like case names, id. can be underlined or italicized. Rule 4 provides additional information on using id.
The official code for federal statutes is the United States Code (U.S.C.). A new print edition is published every six years and updated annually between editions with a cumulative supplement. If you are citing a federal statute currently in force, The Bluebook dictates that you cite to the United States Code if it contains the current version of a statute (Rule 12.3).
There are also two unofficial codes for federal statutes: United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) and United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.). These are both updated in print multiple times a year. Because Congress enacts news laws and amends and repeals existing laws frequently, you will often need to cite to one of these unofficial codes because the current version of a statute does not appear in the United States Code yet.
A citation to a statute in the United States Code generally contains the following four elements:
17 U.S.C. § 107 (2012)
*It is important to note that the date in a citation to the United States Code is the year of the code edition cited as it appears on the spine of the print volume or the title page. It is not the year a statute was enacted or last amended.
In addition to this basic citation, you may need to include the name of the statute in some limited instances. According to The Bluebook, you may add the name of a statute as it appears in the session law if (1) you are citing to an entire act as codified in the United States Code, (2) if the statute is commonly cited that way, or (3) if the information aids in identification of the material cited (Rule 12 and Rule 12.3.1(a)). If you are citing to a specific provision, you may also need to include the original section number from the session law.
For example, the statute above (17 U.S.C. § 107) was originally enacted as part of the Copyright Act of 1976, Pub. L. No. 94-533, 90 Stat. 2541, which is currently codified in Title 17 of the United States Code. This specific provision (§ 107) was Section 101 of the Copyright Act of 1976. Therefore, if you needed to cite the entire Copyright Act of 1976 as currently codified in the United States Code or if it is necessary to include the name and original section number of Section 107 in a particular citation, the citations would be as follows:
Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101-1332 (2012)
Copyright Act of 1976 § 101, 17 U.S.C. § 107 (2012)
This same rule applies if you are citing a federal statute in an unofficial code (see below) and for state statutes.
In most instances, you do not need to include the name of the statute. However, if you cannot figure out whether you need to include the name of a statute in a citation or if you do not know how to find the name, ask your professor.
A citation to a federal statute in one of the unofficial codes is essentially the same as a citation to the United States Code with the addition of the publisher (Rule 12.3.1(d)) and Table 1):
As you can see in Table 1, the United States Code Annotated is published by West and the United States Code Service is published by LexisNexis, so citations to statutes in each of these unofficial codes are as follows:
17 U.S.C.A. § 107 (West 2015)
17 U.S.C.S. § 107 (LexisNexis 2016)
*Again, the date in the citation is not the year a statute was enacted or last amended. For the United States Code Annotated and the United States Code Service, it is the date on the copyright page or the date on the title page, respectively, of the specific volume containing the statute.
As mentioned previously, the current edition of the United States Code is updated in print with an annual supplement. The United States Code Annotated and United States Code Service are also updated in print with supplements or pocket parts (small pamphlets inserted in the back of a volume).
If a particular statute has been amended (or a new statute is enacted) and the changes appear in a supplement or pocket part, you will need to indicate this in the citation (Rule 12.3.1(e)). For example, if the statute above had been amended since the 2012 edition of the United States Code was published (which it has not) and the amendment appeared in the first annual supplement (Supplement I), you would cite it one of two ways. If the statute is completely amended such that the current version appears only in the supplement, the citation is formatted as follows:
17 U.S.C. § 107 (Supp. I 2014)
If the section is only partially updated (i.e., parts of the current version appear in both the main volume and the supplement), the citation is formatted as follows:
17 U.S.C. § 107 (2012 & Supp. I 2014)
The date of the supplement or pocket part can be found on the spine of the volume or front page.
Like federal statutes, state statutes may be published in both an official code and an unofficial code, and The Bluebook requires you to cite to the official code, if possible (Rule 12.2.1).
Table 1 provides a list of statutory codes for each state and indicates which is the official/preferred code to cite as well as the abbreviations for each code. In Virginia, for example, Table 1 lists the official/preferred statutory code as Code of Virginia 1950 Annotated and the unofficial code as West's Annotated Code of Virginia.
The citation format for state statutory codes is similar to federal statutes, but it varies by state. Table 1 provides the citation format for a particular state's statutory code.
In Virginia, for example, a citation to a statute in the Code of Virginia 1950 Annotated has the following three elements:
Therefore, a citation to a statute in this code, would be formatted as follows:
Va. Code Ann. § x-x (year)
*As with federal statutory codes, the date in the citation is the year the statutory code was published, as it appears on the spine of the volume, the title page, or the copyright page, in that order of preference (Rule 12.3.2). It is not the date the statute was enacted or last amended.
Like federal statutory codes, state statutory codes in print are updated with supplements or pocket parts, and the same rule (Rule 12.3.1(e)) applies to citing material in the supplements or pocket parts of state statutory codes.
As discussed previously, The Bluebook requires you to cite statutes currently in force to the official code, if available. However, this does not necessarily mean the print version. The Bluebook also has rules that govern how to cite statutes on Westlaw, Lexis, and other commercial electronic databases.
Some states publish their official statutes only online. In this case, Rule 12.5(b), allows you to cite directly to the online source.
It is important to note that just because a state legislature or other state government entity makes state statutes available online, it does not mean the online version is official for the purposes of citation. Many states publish their statutes online, but expressly state that they are not official.
According to Rule 12.5(b) and Rule 18.2.1(a), you can cite an online version of a code if it is an "authenticated, official, or exact copy" of a print code. If the online version meets one of these criteria—see Rule 18.2.1(a) for definitions—you cite to the online version as if you were citing the original print source.
For example, the database HeinOnline contains exact copies of the official print version of the United States Code in .pdf, so in accordance with Rule 18.2.1(a)(iii), you can cite to the United States Code on HeinOnline as if you used the official print version.
Important Note: The United States Code Annotated on Westlaw and the United States Code Service on Lexis are not authenticated, official, or exact copies of the print versions. To cite the U.S.C.A. or the U.S.C.S. online, follow the rule below.
While The Bluebook prefers citations to the current official code, it does provide a format for citing to statutory codes on Westlaw, Lexis, and other commercial electronic databases in Rule 12.5.
The citation is essentially same as it would be for the print version, except the date is different. As discussed previously, when citing statutes in print, the date is the year of the current print code, found either on the spine of the volume, the title page, or the copyright page. This date indicates which version of a statute you are citing. This information is, of course, not available in a commercial electronic database. Instead, Rule 12.5 says to provide the "currency of the database as provided by the database itself." Here are examples of how to cite 17 U.S.C.A. § 107 on Westlaw and 17 U.S.C.S. § 107 on Lexis:
17 U.S.C.A. § 107 (Westlaw through P.L. 115-72)
17 U.S.C.S. § 107 (LEXIS through PL 115-82, approved 11/2/17)
The currency information of a statutory code will be found in different places in each database. In Westlaw, for example, the currency information is found at the bottom of the screen when you are viewing a specific federal or state statute.
The following are some examples of other sources students may need to cite.
Rule 11 covers how to cite the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions.
A citation to a constitution includes three elements:
For example, here is how you would cite the provision of the U.S. Constitution that says that each state shall have two Senators:
U.S. Const. art. I, § 3, cl. 1
Rule 14 covers how to cite administrative and executive materials, including U.S. federal regulations.
A citation to a U.S. federal regulation in the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) includes four elements:
For example, here is how you would cite a federal regulation that prescribes rules for pets in National Parks in the United States:
36 C.F.R. § 2.15 (2017)
For state regulations, follow the citation format provided for the state in Table 1.
Rule 15 covers how to cite books, reports, and other non-periodic materials, such as encyclopedias.
A basic citation to a book includes the following six elements:
For example, here is a citation to a section in a well-known treatise on federal procedure:
9C Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2552 (3d ed. 2008)
Citations to books vary based on the features of a particular publication. For example, the format is slightly different if a book has an editor rather than an author (Rule 15.2). Be sure to carefully review the publication and consult Rule 15 in order to cite it correctly. Additionally, the typeface used for books is different in academic writing. Rather than underlining the title, use small caps (Rule 15).
Tip: Rule 15.8 provides citation formats for several publications commonly used by first-year law students, such as Black's Law Dictionary and legal encyclopedias.
Rule 16 covers how to cite law reviews and journals, newspapers, and other periodic materials.
A citation to a consecutively paginated* journal article includes the following six elements:
*A consecutively paginated journal is one in which the page numbers continue throughout a volume as opposed to starting at the number one for each issue. Most law reviews and academic journals are consecutively paginated.
Here is an example of how to cite an article in the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology:
Dan L. Burk & Julie E. Cohen, Fair Use Infrastructure for Rights Management Systems, 15 Harv. J.L. & Tech. 41 (2001).
Tip: Rule 16.7.6 describes how to cite annotations in American Law Reports (A.L.R.).
Rule 18 covers when and how to cite online sources as well as other non-print sources (e.g., films). The rules for specific types of documents often also include a section on how to cite the online version. For example, Rule 12.5 describes how to cite statutes on Westlaw and Lexis.
Citation formats to online sources are too varied to provide meaningful examples here, so be sure to consult Rule 18 carefully.
Law students will likely need to cite to depositions, interrogatories, or trial transcripts in the record in order to develop facts for briefs. As a general rule of thumb, you must cite to the record for every factual assertion you make in a brief.
Bluepages Rule B17 covers how to cite to the record, and the abbreviations that are used in citing to the record are listed in Bluepages Table BT1 (e.g., brief = br.)
The key elements of a citation to the record are as follows:
For example, suppose you are asserting as a fact in your brief that a witness, Mr. Dames, saw a blue car speeding through the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue NW and New Jersey Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. The source of this fact is Mr. Dames' deposition testimony.
Your citation for this fact would approximate the following example:
According to Mr. Dames, he was waiting to cross New Jersey Avenue NW outside the Edward Bennett Williams Law Library at approximately 6:15 p.m. on Sept. 3, 2009, when he saw a blue car traveling at approximately 70 miles per hour through the intersection of New Jersey Avenue NW and Massachusetts Avenue NW. Dames Dep. 12, Aug. 7, 2002.
Writing "at" before the page number is generally not required, although it is generally used when citing documents in an appellate record (see Rule B17.1.2).
How Can You Avoid Plagiarism?
To avoid plagiarism you need to recognize when credit is due. Types of plagiarism include direct copying, paraphrasing, and using another person's idea, opinion, or theory. Take a look at the table below:
Examples of Plagiarism
Example One: Paraphrasing from the original source
Example Two: Quoting from the original source