Footnotes, Endnotes, and Citations Generally

Footnotes, Endnotes, and Citations Generally

What citations should I use in my essay?

Regular essays and timed exams

 Most instructors at the undergraduate level (including instructors on law conversion courses) do not require students to do more than indicate the names of cases or statutes in the text of their essays and examinations, particularly in timed examinations. While it's preferable to give the full case name (such as Jones v Smith), in a timed examination you can get by with one name or the other. Usually people pick the first party's name, unless it's a very common name or a criminal case. Sometimes, though, you will notice that your textbook or lecturer uses the second party's name regularly. If you know that the case is commonly short-cited to the second party's name, go ahead and use that.

If you can't remember the name of a particular case or statute, simply describe it. For example, 'the snail in the bottle case' sufficiently evokes Donoghue v. Stevenson. 'The first Occupiers' Liability Act' gets you past worries about the particular year it was enacted. Of course, if you are working on a weekly essay or a long-term research project you must take the trouble of finding and putting in the proper title or citation.

Once you have used the full name once, feel free to use a short citation, such as 'Donoghue' or 'the 1984 Act.' There's no need to keep repeating the full name.

If you are writing your essay by hand, there is no need to use different coloured ink for a case or statutory citation. It often helps if you underline case names, but you won't lose points if you don't. If you are typing your essay, you can underline or italicise case names, but there's no need for elaborate type faces. Make your writing stand out rather than your design skills. Sometimes it seems that students spend more time formatting the essay than they do writing it. Don't be one of those students.

Typically, citations in a regular essay or timed examination are placed in the text next to the proposition they support. See the sample student essays in chapter 10 of the book for models.

These suggestions are only guidelines to use if you do not receive more specific instructions from your tutor or lecturer. If your university or instructors have particular rules that they wish you to follow, do so.


Long-term research essays and theses

If you are doing a long-term research project, you should use the full and proper citation, either in a footnote, an endnote or in the text. Again, once you have given the citation in full, you may use the appropriate short citation.

Very often, instructors will give formatting advice for long-term research essays. Certainly students doing masters theses will be given detailed information on the citation convention they are to use. If you have not been given any guidance, ask for it. Also, don't wait until the last minute to investigate your citation requirements. There's nothing worse than having to go back through all your research to add in specific page numbers or dates because you forgot to do it the first time. With a long-term project, you can and should plan ahead.


When should I quote and when should I paraphrase?

As mentioned in the book, quotes are good in the law. The words of Lord Justice Whozits are much more persuasive than a mere lawyer's. Use quotations freely, as long as you:

  • use the exact words and punctuation found in the original source;
  • use square brackets [ ] to indicate changes in capitalization, punctuation and language; and
  • provide the source of the quotation.

Remember also that extensive quotations from statutes – particularly if you are permitted to use the statute book in an otherwise closed examination – are not particularly impressive. What is more important in those situations is your interpretation and use of the statute.

Never include the precise language of a source – or language that is virtually identical – without a proper attribution. Not only does that constitute plagiarism, it is counter to the use of source material in law. The law depends on published precedent for its authority. A legal principle is only as good as its source. Therefore, you want to demonstrate where your various propositions come from, since they will be more valuable if they come from an outside source.

However, there are times when you should paraphrase rather than provide a direct quotation. If the pertinent section is very long or discusses issues that are not relevant to the point you are making, then go ahead and paraphrase. Similarly, if the point you are making is only tangential to your larger argument, a paraphrase may be appropriate. Sometimes it's wise to save your ammunition for the big issues.

If you are paraphrasing someone, it is still helpful to identify the source so that your reader knows that you are not making the proposition up out of whole cloth. Again, lawyers and judges evaluate the strength of your argument based on the strength of your sources. Show your reader how well-read you are and earn every point you possibly can.


When should I use footnotes, when should I use endnotes and when should I put the citation in the text?

For the most part, undergraduates can put their citations in the text of their essays. The citation can be set off mid-sentence through parenthesis (Hansel v Gretel) or can follow the sentence. Hansel v Gretel. The one exception for undergraduates is on long-term research projects, where the instructors might ask for footnotes or endnotes.

There is no formal convention on when you should use footnotes rather than endnotes. For the most part, it's a matter of style and personal choice, although the choice may not be yours to make. If you are writing a postgraduate thesis or dissertation, your faculty or your supervisor may have very strict ideas on how the work is to be presented. Follow those rules to the letter. Similarly, if you are hoping to have your work published in a periodical or legal journal, ask to see the editorial guidelines. An editor is much more likely to accept your work if it conforms to the house style.

If the issue is left entirely up to you, then you simply need to decide which form of notes you find more helpful. Footnotes can be seen to break the flow of the text, but they also help the reader follow the argument, particularly if the text is comparing and contrasting different sources. Footnotes are also more useful than endnotes if the footnotes contain substantive information rather than simply providing source material. For the most part, British and European writers do not include anything in their foot- or endnotes other than the citations themselves, possibly with a “see also” reference to additional material. American authors, on the other hand, fill their footnotes with additional substantive information. Often the best information in an American law review article can be found in the footnotes.

American legal texts are also known for dropping a footnote at the end of almost every sentence, whereas texts from other countries do so much less, usually only following a direct quote. The reason why American journals use as many footnotes as they do is because most American law journals are edited by law students. British and European journals are peer-reviewed, meaning that an article is only accepted if it passes muster with other academics and/or practitioners. Therefore, the text of the article is verified before it is accepted for publication. American students are not experts in their fields, so they must – and do – check the substance of each and every footnote by hand to make sure that it supports the proposition stated. Therefore, American law journals contain excellent source material for researchers, since the footnotes point the reader to a wide variety of verified information and additional resources. Because American footnotes contain so much information, it makes sense to place them on the same page as the text they support rather than at the end of the article or book.

If you are writing for a non-American audience, you should strongly consider putting citations only into your notes. Once you have made that decision, it matters less whether you put the note on the page or at the end of the piece. If you have a multi-chaptered work (such as a book or doctoral dissertation), then you might consider putting the notes at the end of each chapter rather than at the end of the work as a whole. However, it is highly unlikely that the decision to use footnotes or endnotes will be left to your discretion if you are writing a book or dissertation. Again, conform your text to the guidelines of your institution.

Do remember your punctuation, however. Footnotes and endnotes should both end with a full stop.


What is 'proper' citation form?

If you are an undergraduate writing a weekly essay or timed examination, a case name or the short title of a statute should be sufficient, unless you are told otherwise. If you are writing a more elaborate work, you should follow proper citation guidelines.

There are entire books written on how to cite legal authorities. If you are writing a detailed research paper such as a thesis or dissertation, you should consult one of those books so that you cite your sources properly. Your law librarian can help you find those resources. Also, you should know that each jurisdiction has its own conventions on how to cite legal authorities, so the style of case citation, for example, may not appear consistent if you are citing materials from different countries, even if the individual citations are correct.



In the U.K., authors generally do not give parallel (i.e., multiple) citations except when citing both a neutral reporter and an official reporter, though they must follow strict rules regarding punctuation (or the lack thereof), the type of brackets, typeface, etc. Examples of common British case citations are as follows.

Walker v Sitter [2004] EWHC 1000 (Ch) [5]-[7] (neutral citation, pinpointing paragraphs 5 to 7)

Yin v Yang [2004] QB 123 (QB) at 125 (Schmidt, J) (pinpointing page, noting author)

Tweedledee v Tweedledum [2003] 2 All ER 456 (HL)

Re Luftborough Airport [2002] 1 WLR 89 (Com Ct)

Barking Mad Ltd v Crazy Horse Int'l Inc (2005) Times, 15 April (QB)

The neutral citation system was introduced in the U.K. in January 2001. All cases since then have a neutral citation as well as numbered paragraphs instead of page numbers. The abbreviations indicate which court heard the case. For example, the jurisdictions include:

UK United Kingdom (used only with House of Lords decisions)

EW England and Wales

Scot Scotland

NI Northern Ireland

The court abbreviations which follow the jurisdictional abbreviation in a neutral citation are:

HL House of Lords

CA Civ Court of Appeal (Civil Division)

CA Crim Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)

HC (Ch) High Court (Chancery Division)

HC (QB) High Court (Queen's Bench)

HC (Admin) High Court (Administrative Court Division)

HC (Fam) High Court (Family Division)

HC (Pat) Patents Court

HC (Comm) Commercial Court

HC (Admlty) Admiralty Court

HC (TCC) Technology & Construction Court

European jurisprudence follows its own conventions. You might see citations along the following lines:

Case 26/97 Commission v. Ireland [1999] ECR 321

Case 177/75 Belgium v. Spain [1976] ECR 722, para. 3

Case C-123/92P Y v Commission [1994] ECR I-4321

American legal citations follow a different format, using the style known as the 'Bluebook', which is a citation guide put out by the Harvard Law Review. You'll usually see citations similar to the following:

Darth Vader v Skywalker , 103 F.3d 1049 (2d Cir. 2005)

In re Ballyhoo , 998 F.Supp. 22 (D. D.C. 1999)

Grasshopper v The Ant , 37 Ill. App. 2d 24 (Ill. App. Div. 2003)

Cowboy v Cow , 42 S.W.3d 444 (Tex. 2004)

Many common words (railway, limited, public limited company) can be abbreviated in a case name. Those abbreviations can be found in citation guides such as OSCOLA, which is described below. Similarly, many reporting series are known by their abbreviations. Some of the more common British reporters follow, with their short titles. Be aware that some of these series may also have numbers appearing before the volume name (for example, 2 QB).

Official Law Reports AC, QB, Ch, Fam, P

Weekly Law Reports WLR

European Court Reports ECR

All England Law Reports All ER, All ER Com

Common Market Law Reports CMLR

Criminal Appeal Reports Cr App R

Family Law Reports FLR

Lloyd's Law Reports Lloyd's Rep

Official Journal of the EC OJ

Scots Law Times CLT

The Times The Times



Citation of statutes in the U.K. is a straightforward affair. Typically a student needs only cite the name of the legislation and the year, along with the appropriate section, chapter or paragraph number. For example:

Companies Act 1985, sch. 1, para. 3

Arbitration Act 1996, s. 69

European legislation is equally simple, though the titles are often longer and appear in lower case.

Council Regulation (EC) 2693/94 addressing the need to conform widget size in automobiles [1994] OJ L123

Directive 77/331 applying competition rules to the dairy industry [1977] OJ L78/41

When citing American federal legislation and rules, do not include the name of the enactment.

28 U.S.C. § 1391

Fed. R. Civ. P. 4

Students should be aware that two well-known U.S. treatise series – the Restatement (of Tort, of Contract, of Foreign Relations, etc.) and A.L.R. (American Law Reports) do not constitute binding authority in the U.S. Instead, these works simply generalise about the laws of the various U.S. states and should not be considered as authoritative in any particular jurisdiction. While some courts may adopt the Restatement position on a particular issue, the Restatement does not constitute the law in that jurisdiction until a court has so stated. In all instances, the authority comes from the court, not the Restatement.


Which reporting series should I use?

Since the introduction of the neutral citation system in 2001, it is always proper to cite to that series, using paragraph numbers instead of page numbers. If a case is reported in the official Law Reports (AC, QB, etc.), then you should use that report in addition to the neutral citation (at least for decisions after 2001). If the case is not reported in the official Law Reports, you should use to the Weekly Law Reports and All England Law Reports, in that order. After that, you may turn to any other published source, including specialist series such as Lloyd's or the Times.


What is OSCOLA and how does it relate to the Harvard citation style?

'OSCOLA' refers to the Oxford Standard Citation of Legal Authorities, which is available free of charge on the University of Oxford Faculty of Law website ( The faculty releases two publications: 'Big OSCOLA', which is over 300 pages in length, and 'Little OSCOLA', which is about 30 pages long. Both documents give you detailed instructions on how to cite cases, statutes, books, journals and other legal materials. Most people should start with Little OSCOLA unless they are doing a postgraduate degree at Oxford or are directed to use Big OSCOLA. The OSCOLA system reflects a common understanding of how British legal authorities should be cited and is a good place to learn how British and European cases should be referenced. Notably, the OSCOLA system proposes a citation methodology that conflicts with American usage, and those whose work includes a large number of American cases may prefer to consult the latest edition of the Bluebook, which is available in many university law libraries, for U.S. sources.

You may also hear about the Harvard style of citation, particularly if you conduct socio-legal or other multi-disciplinary research. The Harvard style is not the same as the Bluebook, even though that guide is also put out by Harvard. The Harvard style of citation focuses primarily on non-legal sources such as books and journal articles, and, as such, is not as useful for those taking a strict law course as OSCOLA is. Under the Harvard style of citation, cases are cited in the text, rather than in the footnotes.


Citation signals

Older sources make wide use of Latin phrases such as infra, supra, ante, id, op cit, loc cit and contra. American sources continue to use many of these phrases in addition to a number of signals (see, see also, but see, cf., accord) at the beginning of a cite and descriptors (cert. denied, aff'd by, rev'd by, superseded by, etc.) following a cite. Current British usage avoids all Latin phrases except for ibid, which means 'in the place of' and refers to the preceding citation only. You may only use ibid if the subsequent citation is to the same page; otherwise, use ibid 345 (if, for example, the new citation is to page number 345) or ibid art. 3 (if, for example, the new citation is to article 3). You may also use cf (compare) as a signal, but avoid the American use of see, see also, but see, etc.