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Legal Citation: General Information

Bluebook and ALWD Manual

Purpose of Citations

"The central function of a legal citation is to allow the reader to efficiently locate the cited source."

Source: The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (Columbia Law Review Ass'n et al. eds., 19th ed. 2010).

Additional Purposes:

1.  Helps the reader to find more information or to locate the work cited.

2.  Gives the writer credibility.  Is the work well researched?  Did you cite the critical authorities relevant to your issue?

3.  Helps the writer avoid plagiarism.  You must give credit to the creator of the information.  Conversely, you cannot claim credit for something you did not create.


What does not need citing?

Common knowledge

  • If you can find the same information undocumented in at least five credible sources.
  • Information that the average adult will already know.  Example: humans normally have two arms and two legs. 
  • If the information can be easily found in general reference sources.
  • Examples: folklore, myths, urban legends, common sense observations (like the sun rises in the east and sets in the west), and historical events (but not historical documents).

Your opinions, your ideas and your work

  • Your own lived experiences, your observations, your own thoughts.
  • Your own artwork, photographs, video, audio, etc.  (…but you still must cite your previous written work).

Generally Accepted Facts

  • Examples: pollution is bad; writing is a process.


Legal Citation- in General

Transitioning from ALWD to Bluebook

The most recent version of the Bluebook (The 20th edition) was published in June, 2015. Some of the sources below pre-date the latest version of the Bluebook, but are still useful. You may want to keep in mind what has changed from the 19th edition (published in 2010). The 20th edition includes some new material in Rule 18, which governs the citation of electronic resources, among other changes. For a list of changes, see List of differences between the 19th and 20th editions by law librarian Janelle Beitz or Changes to the 20th Edition of the Bluebook by law librarian Cynthia Pittson.


All software products (including Lexis and Westlaw) make mistakes when converting to Bluebook format.  You must double check all citations.  Ultimately you are responsible for correctly writing the citation in Bluebook format, not the software.

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