Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Bluebook Legal Citation System Guide

The Bluebook

Welcome

This is a guide to the Bluebook system of American legal citation. The information here can help anyone who is writing a scholarly legal paper in the United States, including JD students, LLM students, and SJD students.

The Bluebook is currently in its 21st edition, released in June 2020. It is available in two formats: as a print book, and as an electronic publication.  To buy a print copy or a subscription to the electronic version, visit https://www.legalbluebook.com/.

All references to print book page number in this guide are from the 21st edition.

The Bluebook: An Overview

The Bluebook has two sections:

  • The Bluepages section: citation rules for documents written by practitioners, like legal memoranda and court filings. 
  • The Whitepages section: citation rules for legal academic publications, including law journal articles.

Since law school work focuses on academic writing, this guide describes and explains the rules in the Whitepages section.

Citation Rule Categories

  • Rules 1-8 (pp. 61-94): Style rules, including typeface, capitalization, abbreviation, quotations, and cross references.  
  • Rules for citing primary sources:
    • Rule 10 (p. 95): Cases
    • Rule 11 (p. 119): Constitutions 
    • Rule 12 (p. 120): Statutes, Codes, and Session Laws
    • Rule 13 (p. 135): Legislative Materials (including Congressional documents)
    • Rule 14 (p. 142): Administrative and Executive Materials
  • Rules for citing secondary sources:
    • Rule 15 (p. 147): Books, Reports, and other Nonperiodic Materials
    • Rule 16 (p. 157): Periodical Materials (including journal articles and newspapers)
    • Rule 17 (p. 169): Unpublished and Forthcoming Sources
  • Rules for citing non-print sources, including internet and other electronic sources: Rule 18 (p. 174)
  • Rules for citing foreign (non-U.S.) materials: Rule 20 (p. 188)
  • Rules for citing international materials: Rule 21 (p. 195)

Tables

Table 1 (p. 227) has jurisdiction-specific rules for citing U.S. federal and state cases, statutes, and other primary legal materials.

Table 2 has rules for citing sources from selected foreign jurisdictions.  It is no longer in the print version of the Bluebook, but it is freely available online.

Tables 3 (international organizations, p. 299) and 4 (treaties, p. 302) have rules for citing international sources.

Finally, many Bluebook rules require certain names, words, and phrases to be shortened.  Tables 6-16 (starting on p. 304) list these abbreviations.

Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Bluebook

FAQ #1: Is there a program I can use to generate Bluebook-style citations automatically?

If you want them to be 100% correct, then no.

The Zotero Citation Management System has an option for generating Bluebook-style citations. However, Zotero's citations are frequently not Bluebook-perfect (especially for primary sources like cases and statutes), so you will have to fix them if you want them to be right.

The PowerNotes Content Management System also has an option for generating Bluebook-style citations.  It does Bluebook a bit better than Zotero, but its citations are not perfect either.  If you want them to be correct, you have to fix them.

Anything you download from HeinOnline as a PDF will include a Bluebook citation on the first page of the PDF.  Those citations are often close but not entirely right. For example, Hein-generated citations do not use small caps for book and journal titles.  So, again, you can use them but you will have to fix them.

Lexis and Westlaw show citations for every case. These are generally correct in that the letters and numbers are right. But many cases are reported in multiple reporters, and the Bluebook has requirements regarding which citation version you use depending on the court.  So you can and should use them, but you still have to use Rule 10 and Table T1 to make them perfectly compliant with the Bluebook rules.

In other words, there is no getting around learning the Bluebook if you are writing an American legal academic paper that requires citations to be in Bluebook format. No automated process will do a better Bluebook citation than a human being reading and applying the rules.

FAQ #2: OK, fine. Does the Bluebook have a list of citation examples for each rule?

Yes! Right inside the front cover there is a quick guide to the major rules, with citation examples. Use this as a quick reference if you can't remember which rule covers which type of source.

FAQ #3: How do I cite something I found online?

Rule 18 has rules for citing internet sources, websites, documents found online, blogs, social media posts, etc.  This guide has a short video that demonstrates how this works for a website (click Bluebook Training Videos in the table of contents to the left of this text to navigate to it).

Remember, the Bluebook really prefers that you cite to a print source. It has gotten more flexible over the years. However, for something like a law review article, even if you found it online, you still need to follow the instructions in Rule 16 to cite it.

FAQ #4: How do I cite a source that I cited in another footnote?

Instructions for doing this are in Rule 3.5: Internal Cross-References.

Id.

If you cited only one source in footnote #1, and you want to cite the exact same source in footnote #2, that is when you use id. Only the source has to be the same, not the page or section.

In the below example, footnote #2 is citing page 200 of the Messi case.

Footnote #1: Messi v. Haaland, 100 F.4th 197 (9th Cir. 2021).
Footnote #2: Id. at 200.

 

Supra

For secondary sources like law review articles and books, if you want to cite a source that you cited longer ago in your paper than the previous footnote, you can use supra.

When you do a supra citation, you have to use the same font specifications as you did in the original citation. What does that mean? Check out footnote #3 below, which cites a book.  According to rule 15, both the author and the title of the book must be in small caps.  This same book is also cited in footnotes #5, #7, and #11.  In each of those, the author's name is in small caps.

This rule is slightly different for cases, however.

  • For the short form of a case, the general rule is to use the name of the first party, italicized (as was done in footnotes #4 and #13 in the example below). 
  • If the case was cited more than five footnotes ago, you cannot use a short form; you have to cite the whole case again (as shown in footnote #14 below).

Footnote #1: Messi v. Haaland, 100 F.4th 197 (9th Cir. 2021).
Footnote #2: Id. at 200.
Footnote #3: Kylian Mbappé, Comparative Constitutional Jurisprudence in the Twenty-First Century 15 (2022).
Footnote #4: Messi, 100 F.4th, at 201.
Footnote #5: Mbappé, supra note 3, at 58-59.
Footnote #6: Manuel Neuer, Why the Judiciary Needs Term Limits, 200 Harv. L. Rev. 1, 7 (2022).
Footnote #7: Mbappé, supra note 3, at 88.
Footnote #8: See Neuer, supra note 6, at 9-11 (describing how establishing term limits for judges in Germany has instilled more confidence in that country's judiciary).
Footnote #9: Zinchenko v. Davies, 101 F.4th 408, 409 (2nd Cir. 2022).
Footnote #10: Id. at 415.
Footnote #11: See generally Mbappé, supra note 3.
Footnote #12: But see id. at 227-30 (outlining Mbappé's argument that constitutional court judges should also be trained in areas other than law).
Footnote #13: Zinchenko, 101 F.4th at 410; see also Neuer, supra note 6, at 15-16.
Footnote #14: Messi v. Haaland, 100 F.4th 197, 202 (9th Cir. 2021).

 

TIP: There are two ways to change text to small caps. Select the text. Then, either (a) access the Font edit window and select Small caps under Effects, or (b) press these keys at the same time: Ctrl + Shift + K.

 

FAQ #5: Help! When I add new footnotes, the numbering in supra citations gets messed up.

It's a fact of life that footnote numbers change as we add and remove footnotes from our paper during the editing process.

Fortunately, Microsoft Word has a feature that can help.  There is a video further down in this guide that explains how to use Word's Internal Cross-Reference feature to add footnote reference numbers to supra citations (click Bluebook Training Videos in the table of contents to the left of this text to navigate to it).

If you use this feature, these numbers will be connected to the source that you're citing.  What does that mean?  Suppose you first cite a book by Sandra Jones in footnote #28 in your paper, like this:

Footnote #28: Sandra Jones, Law is Useful 18 (2005).

 

Then, you cite that same book in footnote #34, like this:

Footnote #34: See Jones, supra note 28, at 75-80.

 

What happens if, later on, you add another footnote to your paper BEFORE the Jones book citation that has been in footnote #28?  That's right: that Jones book citation is pushed back to footnote #29.  That also means that the supra note number in footnote #34 (which is now footnote #35) needs to change, from 28 to 29.

When you first create footnote #34, don't manually type "28" after "supra note."  Instead, insert it as a cross-reference, following the instructions in the video below.  That way, when it needs to be updated when the footnote numbers change, you can tell Word to do that automatically.  That procedure is also explained in the video.

If you do this every time you add a supra citation, you will be able to update all of the numbers in all of the supra citations in your paper in a few keystrokes, regardless of how many footnotes you have.  Please consider using this headache-preventing device.

FAQ #6: When should I use "see" in a footnote?

Introductory signals explain why and how you are citing and using a source.They are listed below, and rule 1.2 explains their use.

  • E.g.
  • Accord
  • See
  • See also
  • Cf.
  • Compare
  • Contra
  • But see
  • But cf.
  • See generally

In the example below, signals are used in footnotes #8, #11, and #12.

When using a signal like "See" or "But see," you may want to use a parenthetical to explain why you are citing a particular source.  This is shown in footnotes #8 and #12 in the example below. For more information about how this works, see rule 1.5: Parenthetical Information.

Footnote #1: Messi v. Haaland, 100 F.4th 197 (9th Cir. 2021).
Footnote #2: Id. at 200.
Footnote #3: Kylian Mbappé, Comparative Constitutional Jurisprudence in the Twenty-First Century 15 (2022).
Footnote #4: Messi, 100 F.4th, at 201.
Footnote #5: Mbappé, supra note 3, at 58-59.
Footnote #6: Manuel Neuer, Why the Judiciary Needs Term Limits, 200 Harv. L. Rev. 1, 7 (2022).
Footnote #7: Mbappé, supra note 3, at 88.
Footnote #8: See Neuer, supra note 6, at 9-11 (describing how establishing term limits for judges in Germany has instilled more confidence in that country's judiciary).
Footnote #9: Zinchenko v. Davies, 101 F.4th 408, 409 (2nd Cir. 2022).
Footnote #10: Id. at 415.
Footnote #11: See generally Mbappé, supra note 3.
Footnote #12: But see id. at 227-30 (outlining Mbappé's argument that constitutional court judges should also be trained in areas other than law).
Footnote #13: Zinchenko, 101 F.4th at 410; see also Neuer, supra note 6, at 15-16.
Footnote #14: Messi v. Haaland, 100 F.4th 197, 202 (9th Cir. 2021).

FAQ #7: Are there special rules for citing non-English foreign sources?

Instructions for citing foreign (non-English) materials are provided in detail in Rule 20.2 and in the individual country sections in Table T2 (which is freely available online; note not every jurisdiction is covered).  

Tip: Bluebook rules for citing foreign sources often overlap and contradict each other; do your best to follow the examples. Remember, the purpose of citation is to make it as easy as possible for someone to find your cited source. If adding additional information to your citations will help your reader, then do it even if it's not in the Bluebook.

 

Generally, when it comes to language version, you need to cite the source you are referring to, as detailed in rules 20.2.2 and 20.2.5.

If you are referring to a non-English primary source in its original language, you should cite the original-language version.  Here's an example of this from the German version of the Political Parties Act:

“Mitglieder einer Partei können nur natürliche Personen sein.”  Gesetz über die Politischen Parteien (PartG) [Political Parties Act], Jan. 31, 1994, BGBl. I at 149, § 2 (Ger.).

 

If you are referring to a primary source that was translated into English, you should cite the translated version.  Here's an example of this from an English-language translation of the Swiss Civil Procedure Code that is available on the Swiss government's website:

“Unnecessary costs are charged to the party that caused them.” Swiss Civil Procedure Code, Dec. 19, 2008, SR 272, art. 108 (Switz.), https://www.fedlex.admin.ch/eli/cc/2010/262/en#art_108.

 

Cite foreign books just like U.S. books according to rule 15. For articles from foreign periodicals and newspapers, see rule 20.6

Providing an English-language translation of foreign-language article titles is permitted, but not necessary. There is no stated rule for providing translations of book titles.  Remember, however, if your paper is targeting a U.S. audience, many readers will find those kinds of translations helpful.

FAQ #8: Are there special capitalization rules for titles?

Americans capitalize most words in titles, and the Bluebook's capitalization rule, Rule 8, reflects this preference:

  • General rule: capitalize all words, including the initial word and the word immediately following a colon.
  • Exception to the general rule: do not capitalize the following:
    • Articles (such as a, an, the)
    • Conjunctions (these are words that connect words, sentences, or phrases, such as for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
    • Prepositions (such as with, by, in, on)
  • Exception to the exception: Capitalize any of those words if they are the first word of the title, the first word after a colon, or more than four letters.

Incorrect article title capitalization:
Hearing the voiceless: a respected judge on putting the rights of crime victims above those of defendants

Correct article title capitalization:
Hearing the Voiceless: A Respected Judge on Putting the Rights of Crime Victims Above Those of Defendants

FAQ #9: Where do I put the footnote numbers in the text, before or after the punctuation?

In American legal writing, as opposed to that in many other countries, place the footnote number AFTER punctuation marks, including periods, commas, quotations marks, etc. Note, however, that there are two types of punctuation marks that should have the footnote number placed before them: colons, and dashes.  This is shown in the example accompanying rule 1.1.

Bluebook Training Videos

Bluebook Tips Video Series

We have some short videos of Bluebook tips that are based on the FAQ in this guide.  

The first tip video explains the answers to both FAQ #3 (using id and supra) and FAQ #4 (using Word's internal cross reference feature), all in one 3:30 video!

The next tip video discusses FAQ #2 - using rule 18 to cite online sources.  It also talks about perma.cc, the Harvard Law School Library Innovation Lab's website archival tool. 

Here's another video that was made based on a recent question we received in the research service department.  It describes how to cite a federal statute as a session law (using rule 12.4) and not how it was codified in the U.S. Code.  Examples are given for two types of citations: to a chapter number (for very old statutes), or to a public law number (for newer statutes).

Bluebook Training Class in Two Parts (Video, From 2020)

Below is a two-part recording of a Bluebook training class offered by Jennifer in March 2020. Although it references the 20th edition of the Bluebook, the class is still relevant and provides a good basic introduction to general Bluebook style and citation rules for US and foreign sources. 

Legal Citation Beyond the Bluebook

Over It? Here Are Some Other Options...

Getting Help

Contact Us!

  Ask Us! Submit a question or search our knowledge base.

Chat with us! Chat  with a librarian (HLS only)

Email: research@law.harvard.edu

 Contact Historical & Special Collections at specialc@law.harvard.edu

 Meet with Us  Schedule an online consult with a Librarian

Hours  Library Hours

Classes View Training Calendar or Request an Insta-Class

 Text Ask a Librarian, 617-702-2728