Please come to the reference desk if you have questions about individual citations. This general guide is intended to give you some assistance with typical questions that come up. Note that Library Reference, Government Documents Librarian (e-mail | (312) 503-8451) , and ForeignInternationalLawLibrarian, are both most expert in deciphering citations in their respective fields. However, any reference librarian would be happy to help.

The Bluebook has a strong preference for citation to print sources, expressed in Rule 18 and implicit throughout the rules. In many cases PDF images of print sources are readily available either on free Web sites or through library databases. We have created a separate list of PDF sources that may help with locating digitized equivalents.


Start with NUcat

In most cases, the library catalog NUcat is the best place to begin searching for source and cite materials in the library, regardless of whether you are looking for a print source or a PDF version of a text. Be sure to check the electronic links presented for versions that may have PDF available.

Kevin M. Scott, Understanding Judicial Hierarchy: Reversals and the Behavior of Intermediate Appellate Judges, 40 L. & SOC'Y REV. 163, 163 (2006).

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Examine the Citation

Sometimes it is difficult to determine exactly what kind of source you are looking at. The library catalog NUcat includes titles of books, names of journals, and titles of government documents, but does not contain chapters of books or titles of individual articles.

erard Whyte, Law and Poverty in Ireland, in LAW & SOCIAL POL'Y: SOME CURRENT PROBLEMS IN IRISH LAW 86, 87-88 (William Duncan, ed., 1987).

Background and History of Impeachment: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on the Constitution of the H. Comm. of the Judiciary , 105th Cong. 22-23 (1998).

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Use WorldCat to Locate Materials Outside Northwestern

The WorldCat database collects data from libraries throughout the United States and the world. For source and cite purposes, it helps in two ways. First, it is an excellent place to determine whether a book or report or journal name is properly cited; by searching for the text in a world-wide catalog, you can often determine problems with titles or dates. Second, WorldCat can help you find out whether the text would be available by interlibrary loan.


Please note that WorldCat does allow you to make interlibrary loan requests, but for source and cite we ask that you instead use the library's interlibrary loan form; this way we can ensure that you are borrowing as a proxy for the journal and we can also make sure that we don't request the resource multiple times.

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Use Indexes to Resolve Citation Problems

Authors frequently have incorrect or incomplete information. The Northwestern libraries subscribe to a number of indexes related to law and other fields, including LegalTrac, the Index to Legal Periodicals and Books, and many others. Indexes outside law can be found on the Northwestern library electronic resources page: Try searching for the author or for certain key phrases in the title to determine what is wrong with the author's citation. In the following example, the volume number is clearly wrong:

Lawrence Lessig, Re-Marking the Progress in Frischmann, 809 MINN. L. REV. 1031-1043 (2005).

Other reference books and web sites of legal abbreviations might also be helpful when deciphering abbreviations cited in articles. For example, the following resources are helpful for legal citations (domestic and international):

1. Prince, Mary Miles, ed., Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations: a Reference Guide for Attorneys, Legal Secretaries, Paralegals, and Law Students (Hein 2001) - Located in the law library at: R, REF (Reference Room) KF 246.B46 2001.

2. Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations, available at: (search by title of a Law publication or by Abbreviation).

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Newspaper Articles

Frequently authors cite to newspaper articles based on online editions, or even if they read the print edition they fail to note the page numbers. Note that we have PDF versions of backfiles of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, and other papers. In general, it is quite difficult to request a newspaper by interlibrary loan without a date and a page number, and our interlibrary loan department will usually not be able to process the request. One of the best things you can do is to search the article in Lexis or Westlaw to get the page number before you submit an interlibrary loan request for the article.

Moratorium on Executions Illegal, Illinois Justice Says , CHICAGO SUN-TIMES , Oct. 2000.

Here, Lexis gives both the exact date and page number. We can easily get this by interlibrary loan.

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A Note on "supra" References

When you encounter a "supra" reference for your source and cite, please allow the person who is assigned to that reference to get a copy of the book, article, or other library material. If the supra reference is within your source and cite, then you may request the material from another library or get a copy from our library. However, do not request supra materials that are not within the range of your source and cite because this results in duplicate interlibrary loan requests and other confusion resulting from book pulls in the law library. For example, if you are assigned to notes 130 - 150 and you see the following reference in note 135: See Lessig & Sunstein, supra note 128, at 117-118, then you should allow the person who is assigned to note 128 to pull the resource or request it from another library. Overall, this will help alleviate additional work for yourself and our interlibrary loan manager who has to field many requests for materials from other libraries and does not want to inadvertently make duplicate requests for the same reference.

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