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Bluebook Basics

A short primer on Bluebook citation formats for federal and state cases and statutes, as well as books, journals, and other secondary sources. N.B. Citation examples use non-academic citation format (i.e., the format for briefs and legal memoranda).

Available Online

The print bound version of the 20th edition includes a free trial to the Bluebook online. An online subscription beyond the trial period requires purchase of an annual subscription.

The Bluebook

Law students and practitoners rely on The Bluebook, a uniform citation system, currently in its 20th edition. The Bluebook differentiates between the non-academic citation, used in court documents, and the academic citation, used in law review footnotes.

Remember, you are learning the skill of finding and reading set of rules, understanding them and applying them to your situation. If you learn to apply one set of rules, you've developed the skill to apply the next set. 

Basic Bluebooking

The following are single page tip sheets on basic non-academic Bluebooking, provided courtesy of the Law Library at the Pace Law School:

Why Do We Use the Bluebook?

"The central function of a legal citation is to allow the reader to efficiently locate the cited source." The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation 1 (Columbia Law Review Ass'n et al. eds., 20th ed. 2015). 

Citations in legal writing serve two purposes:

  • Attribution - to identify the source of ideas expressed in the text, and
  • Support - to direct the reader to specific authority supporting the proposition in the text

Avoid accidental plagiarism by citing a source for any idea that is not original.

The Bluepages (Non-academic) v. the White Pages (Academic)

The Bluepages section of the Bluebook addresses non-academic citation. It is citation for practitioners and law clerks. Here you will find guidance and examples of citation formats that you will use when writing your memoranda, briefs, and other court documents.

Turn to page IX of the Bluebook to see the Table of Contents listing the topics covered in the Bluepages, including:

  • Typeface Conventions (italics v. underlining)
  • Citation Sentences and Clauses
  • Introductory Signals
  • Citation of Sources of Authorities (primary, secondary, and the Internet)
  • Explanatory Parentheticals
  • Quotations

Page 4 has a helpful table that sets out the differences between the typeface used in non-academic and academic citation.

The white pages in the Bluebook address academic citation. It is citation for law reviews, journals, and other academic legal publications. The white pages expand on the rules included in the Bluepages. N.B. The citations in the white pages use large and small capital letters. If you consult the examples here remember that large and small caps are never used in non-academic citation.

The Organization of the Bluebook

  • Inside front cover of the Bluebook
    • Contains Quick Reference Guide to Law Review Footnotes--this is the format used for academic legal citation.
  • Table of Contents
    • Highlights the non-academic legal citation rules (Bluepages), academic legal citation rules (white pages), and tables. 
  • The Bluepages
    • Contains rules and introduction about the basic legal citation for practitioners and law clerks.
    • More difficult citation questions may require you to consult the white pages. 
  • Rules 1-9
    • Contain general rules of citation and style for use in legal writing.  
  • Rules 10-19
    • Contain rules for specific types of materials, such as cases, statutes, and secondary sources.  
  • Rules 20-21 
    • Contain rules governing citation of foreign and international materials. 
  • Tables T1 - T16
    • Contain overall general rules that should be consulted in connection with any of the Rules 1-21 where needed. 
    • Contain guidance on case law and statutory citation by jurisdiction and includes tables of abbreviatiions.  
  • Index
    • Use the Index to locate rules of citation you are looking for.  
  • Inside back cover of the Bluebook
    • Contains Quick Reference Guide to Court Documents and Legal Memoranda--this is the format used for non-academic legal citation. 
  • Outside back cover of the Bluebook
    • Contains an outline of the Bluebook contents. 
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