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Citing and referencing for Law

A guide covering citing and referencing using OSCOLA, with an online tutorial, hints and tips, and links for further help.

Citing & Referencing for academic writing

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.

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 (PDF), however here are some quick pointers to get you started:

What does OSCOLA 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 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 provide 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.


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 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.