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Citing & Referencing for Academic Writing

*This information does not apply to those students on Professional programmes (BPTC and LPC)*

Key Points

It is important to cite and reference your sources in any work you produce for your assignments. Referencing is a way of acknowledging that you have used the ideas and written material belonging to another author. It demonstrates that you have undertaken an appropriate literature search and that you have carried out appropriate reading. It enables anyone reading your work to look up your citations and read them for themselves.

Please refer to your 'Student Handbook' or contact your lecturer to determine which reference style you need to use. Remember any piece of written work submitted will be marked for correct reference and citation.

When to Cite?

If the facts are common knowledge, then there is no need to provide a citation. However, if you are in any doubt it is better to cite the source. Here are a few examples:

“The capital of Colombia is Bogota.”  This is a common fact and does not need to be cited

“Bogota is the best city in Colombia.”  This is an opinion. Who says so? What context? This needs to be cited properly to explain your statement

“In my personal opinion Bogota is the best city in Colombia.”  This is an opinion but you are clearly stating it is your personal view and you are not actually citing another source. However, you would be expected to illustrate and justify this view in your essay by comparing opinions and illustrating with appropriate evidence. These facts and pieces of evidence would need to be cited.

Introduction to OSCOLA

What is OSCOLA?

OSCOLA (the Oxford University Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities) is a way of citing and referencing legal materials.

Full guidance on the OSCOLA rules can be found in the comprehensive OSCOLA guide, however here are some quick pointers to get you started:

What does it look like?

OSCOLA is a footnote referencing style. That means that you have small superscript numbers in your text (e.g. 1, 2, 3, etc.) and these link to footnotes at the bottom of each page.

For longer documents, you may be asked* to include a list of abbreviations and tables of cases, legislation and other primary sources at the start, and a bibliography of secondary sources at the end. This is in addition to your footnotes. The items in your bibliography will take a slightly citation format to those in your footnotes, so read the guidance at pages 10-12 of the OSCOLA guide carefully before preparing a list of abbreviations, tables and a bibliography.

*Note: Please check your programme handbook or ask your supervisor whether you are expected to produce abbreviations, tables of cases and legislation and a bibliography, and - if so - if these should be in any particular order/format.

How do I present a quotation within my document?

You will probably want to include quotes from cases, books, etc. in your work.  Pages 8-10 of the OSCOLA guide provides comprehensive advice on this, but as a rough guide:

  • If the quotation is short (up to 3 lines), you should put it into single quotation marks and incorporate it within your text. 
  • If the quotation is longer, it should be presented in an indented paragraph.

OSCOLA - primary sources

Cases, Acts of Parliament and other primary sources

Here are some examples of how to cite a case and an Act of Parliament:

Cases (England and Wales)

For case citations which include a neutral citation:

case name | [year] | court | number, | [year] OR (year) | volume | report abbreviation | first page

e.g. Corr v IBC Vehicles Ltd [2008] UKHL 13, [2008] 1 AC 884

For case citations where there is no neutral citation:

case name | [year] OR (year) | volume | report abbreviation | first page | (court)

e.g. Page v Smith [1996] AC 155 (HL)

An explanation about brackets: Put the year in square brackets if the year is necessary to identify the law report volume. Use round brackets if the year is NOT necessary to identify it, i.e. because the volumes of the law report series are independently numbered. An example of a law report series where the volumes are independently numbered is the Butterworths Medico-Legal Reports. For further information see pages 13-14 of the OSCOLA guide. There is also a Cardiff University Citing the Law tutorial which has helpful information on citing case law.

UK primary legislation

Your citation should be made up of the short title and year, e.g.:

Shipping and Trading Interests (Protection) Act 1995

If referring to a section only, the format would be:

Shipping and Trading Interests (Protection) Act 1995, s1

Other primary sources: the OSCOLA guide gives additional guidance for pre-1865 cases, older statutes, bills, secondary legislation, EU legislation and judgments and European Court of Human Rights judgments. See pages 13-32 for full details of how to cite primary legal sources.

OSCOLA - secondary sources

Books, journal articles and other secondary sources

Here are some examples of how to cite a book and journal article:


As a rough guide*, a citation for a book should take the form below.

author, | title | (additional information, | edition, | publisher | year)

e.g. Timothy Endicott, Administrative Law (3rd edn, OUP 2015)

If you need to pinpoint a particular page of the book, you can do this by adding the page number onto the end of the citation:

e.g. Andrew Burrows, Remedies for Torts and Breach of Contract (3rd edn, OUP 2004) 317

*Note: there will be situations where it is more difficult to create a citation (e.g. books with more than 3 authors; books with no authors; edited or translated books; encyclopedias; looseleafs, etc.)  Luckily, there is plenty of advice on these topics at pages 33 to 37 of the OSCOLA guide.


If a journal article is available in print, you can cite it as follows:

author, | ‘title’ | [year] | journal name or abbreviation | first page of article


author, | ‘title’ | (year) | volume | journal name or abbreviation | first page of article

e.g. Alison L Young, ‘In Defence of Due Deference’ (2009) 72 MLR 554

If you are citing a journal article which is published ONLY electronically, a different format is used:

author, | ‘title’ | [year] OR (year) | volume/issue | journal name or abbreviation | <web address> | date accessed

But most articles you will be citing will be available in print, so it is only rarely that you would need to use the online journal citation format.

An explanation about brackets: use square brackets for the year of publication if it identifies the volume. Use round brackets if there is a separate volume number.  In the example above, the article is from the Modern Law Review which has separate volume numbers, so round brackets have been used.

Other secondary sources: the OSCOLA guide provides examples for citing the the following materials: Hansard and parliamentary reports, Command papers, Law Commission reports, European Commission documents, conference papers, theses, websites and blogs, newspaper articles, interviews and personal communications (see pages 33-43).  If what you want to cite is not contained in the preceding list, don't worry! The OSCOLA guide sets out some general principles you can follow for secondary sources at page 39.

Further help with OSCOLA

For more resources to help you, please take a look at the OSCOLA webpage. This contains a Quick Reference Guide, answers to Frequently Asked Questions, and a Citing International Law Sources Section.

There is also a free online tutorial created by Cardiff University, entitled Citing the Law using OSCOLA.


RefWorks is a bibliographic software tool which allows you to manage your research material by importing and adding your references to an online database. You can then manage your references and use their details to create bibliographies. RefWorks offers an OSCOLA style, but please note that you should always carefully check the references and bibliographies created by RefWorks to make sure that they comply with the rules in the OSCOLA guide.

If you are new to RefWorks and would like to try using it, go to the ProQuest RefWorks website and click the “Create account” link. Fill in your information making sure you use your City email address. You will receive an email to your City email address with a link to complete the registration process. Once you activate your account you’ll get access to RefWorks immediately.

City Libraries have created a really useful Refworks guide for new users.

As mentioned above, although bibliographic software tools like RefWorks can be a handy way to manage references, you need to manually check all of the references and bibliographies that they produce, as errors can occur.