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Bluebooking and Legal Citation: Bluebook Basics

Finding the Bluebook

The Most Important Rules in the Bluebook

The two most important rules in the Bluebook are contained in one short paragraph on its first page:

  • "The central function of legal citation is to allow the reader to efficiently locate the cited source."
  • "[N]o system of citation can be complete...when citing material of a type not explicitly discussed in this book, try to locate an analogous type of authority that is discussed and use that citation format as a model."

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation 1 (Columbia Law Review Ass'n et al. eds., 20th ed. 2015).

If you can't find the rule for a citation, remember:

  • There may not be a rule. 
  • If there's no rule, find a similar citation and use it as a model.
  • Ultimately, what matters is helping the reader find the source.

Parts of the Bluebook

Whitepages vs. Bluepages

The main division in the Bluebooks is between the Whitepages, which provide citations for use in academic legal writing, and the Bluepages, which provide citations for use in court documents. In practice, the primary difference between the two styles is that the Bluepages use simpler type faces (no small caps!) and use in-text citations rather than footnotes.

Photo of Bluebook from the side, showing color coded pages

  1. Front cover: Examples of common citations in Whitepage format, with references to the relevant rules.
  2. Bluepages: The light blue pages at the beginning of the Bluebook provide simplified citation formats for court documents.
  3. Whitepages: The white pages in the center of the Bluebook provide detailed citation formats for academic legal writing.
  4. Tables: The white pages with dark blue borders provide tables summarizing citations for different jurisdictions and explaining abbreviations for cases and journals.
  5. Index: Not sure what rule to apply? Start with the index. Look up the type of source or subpart to locate the relevant rule.
  6. Back cover: The inside provides examples of common citations in Bluepage format, with references to the relevant rules. The outside provides a simplified Table of Contents.

Four Ways to Get Started with the Bluebook

1. Start with the Quick Reference covers.
The Quick Reference covers provide you with basic citation formats to copy, plus references to the relevant rules for more information.

2. Start with a guide.
Guides such as Understanding the Bluebook (for academic legal writing) and User's Guide to the Bluebook (for court documents) provide you with example citations, explanations, and references to the relevant rules in the Bluebook itself. For a complete list of guides, see the Guides and Tutorials tab.

3. Start with the Index.
Confused by a specific citation element or source? Look it up in the Bluebook's detailed index to find all the pages where it is discussed.

4. Start with Table T2 or T1.
T2 provides sample citations for specific foreign jurisdictions; T1 includes some sample citations for more obscure U.S. materials, such as state legislative and administrative materials.