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Legal Research: Legal Citation

This guide will describe the basics of doing legal research at the URI Libraries.

Uniform System of Legal Citation Basics

Sources listed in almost all legal publications are cited by using the Uniform System of Legal Citation, commonly known as the Bluebook.  This style looks very different from the other more widely used and familiar styles such as Turabian, MLA and APA.  To the novice it looks like a meaningless series of numbers and letters.  But just about every legal source will use it and once you've "cracked the code", it's easy to follow.  An explanation of the system is given in the boxes below.

Using the Uniform System of Legal Citation

When using this sytem, keep these important points in mind.

  • The abbreviations to the sources are standardized so that the same abbreviation will almost always stand for the same source no matter what source is being used.  Also the number of the larger division of a source will always be listed before the abbreviation.  The number for the smaller division of the source will always be listed after the abbreviation. (See the "How to Read a Legal Citation" in the box below.)
  • If a document is published in more than one source, all of the sources where that document is published will be listed.  This is especially true for case law.  It will look like a long string of numbers and letters but by knowing how to divide the citations, you'll be able to identify where the document is published.
  • Almost all legal sources prefer that the print version be cited, so when citing a source that's been found online, care must be taken to cite the print version as well.

How to Read a Legal Citation


These examples show two typical legal citations.

In the top example, the source is the United States Code.  This source is divided into large divisions called titles and each title is divided into parts.  So this citation would be read as "Title 40, part 6201 of the United States Code". 

How to Read a legal Citation

In the bottom example, the source is the Federal Register which is a daily periodical and like many other periodicals is divided into volumes and pages.  So this citation would be read as "Volume 52, page 39278 of the Federal Register".

Abbreviations of Some Commonly Used Legal Sources

The enitre list of abbreviations can be found in Prince's Bieber Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (see the "Legal Citation Sources" box below) but here are listed some of the most commonly used abbreviations along with the full title of the source.

Legal Citation Sources

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Deborah Mongeau
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