Cite-Checking & Library Research
Updated May 18, 2015.
Note: Commercial databases cited herein may be restricted to users with UW NetIDs or passwords.
"The basic purpose of a legal citation is to allow the reader to locate a cited source accurately and efficiently." The Bluebook, at 4.
The cite-checker reviews citations in a submitted article to ensure that the citations comply with the rules established by The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (latest edition adopted by the law review). To accomplish this task, the cite-checker identifies, locates, and retrieves copies of all cited sources.
This document describes tools and strategies for identifying, locating, and retrieving sources in the Gallagher Law Library and other libraries, in online commercial databases, and on the Internet.
The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, 19th ed. (2010) (KF245.U5 at Reference Area & Reference Office), is the bible of legal citation. The majority of U.S. law school law reviews and journals follow its rules.
The general rules of legal citation are found in the white pages. The blue pages contain an assortment of helpful lists and tables, including citations to primary legal sources by jurisdiction (federal and state, foreign countries, and selected intergovernmental organizations) and abbreviations used in case names, court names, court documents, geographical terms, judges and officials, months, periodicals, looseleaf services, and document subdivisions.
Because of The Bluebook's complexity and the wide variety of categories of legal and related information, cite-checkers might find the following sources useful:
When in doubt, cite-checkers find it useful to search for comparable citations in:
The editors of these law reviews are responsible for The Bluebook and are, presumably, the world experts in interpreting and applying Bluebook rules.
So many citations; so little time? How should a cite-checker approach his or her first assignment to retrieve cited material?
The following check-list itemizes a list of steps for locating and collecting cited material. Read more detailed descriptions of strategies and sources below.
The Law Library and its catalog are the first stops for locating copies of printed books, law reviews, primary legal sources, government publications, East Asian legal sources, and many legal and law-related material from Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and major European countries.
Search the Law Library catalog by the title of the publication. Record the call number and library location of each item. Also note if any of the items are currently checked out. Consult a reference librarian for explanations of any mysterious or confusing information. Retrieve items and take them to the Circulation Desk for check-out.
For materials not available at the Gallagher Law Library, change the search scope to Summit libraries, which includes records from more than 30 academic libraries in Oregon and Washington. Several other law libraries are included in this catalog:
You may place requests for any circulating items you find in Summit by using the Request This Item feature. You will need your UW NetID to complete the request. Material will be delivered at the Law Library's Circulation Desk.
For materials not available from any other source, submit an Interlibrary Loan request.
To ensure that you have an accurate citation, please confer with a reference librarian. We can use other databases to confirm the accuracy of the citation.
You will be notified by email when the Interlibrary Loan materials have arrived. The loan period is determined by the library that loans the book.
Several types of printed sources can be obtained through online databases. These databases deliver the materials using Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF), which produces a copy of the item exactly as it appears in the printed source, complete with graphics and pagination. Obtaining and printing PDF documents may be more efficient than tracking down the original printed sources
In October 2002, Westlaw began offering PDF images of cases published in West's National Reporter System. When you search Westlaw, by using its Find & Print other search features, look for the West Reporter Image (PDF) link near the top of the page. Clink on the link to launch the PDF viewer, then print the document. Note: The document will print on the printer attached to your computer NOT the Westlaw stand-alone printer.
West Reporter Images are available for West's federal and regional reporters back to 1960.
HeinOnline is a database that offers PDF copies of scores of law reviews, including extensive coverage of law review pre-dating inclusion in Lexis and Westlaw. For example:
Use the Citation Navigator to search by citation. Or follow the links that appear in the Gallagher Law Library catalog records to go to PDF images.
HeinOnline also provides PDF images of:
Tip: Early volumes of the U.S. Reports omit dates of decisions. The Supreme Court website includes a list of Dates of Supreme Court Decisions and Arguments, United States Reports Volumes 2-107 (1791-1882).
The U.S. Government Printing Office maintains a website called FDsys that provides PDF versions of several important sources of federal law, including:
Many other federal government websites also provide PDF documents, such as:
Consult a reference librarian for assistance.
LLMC Digital is an online collection of government reports in PDF. It also includes PDF images of many early state court reports.
Numerous other sources provide PDF images of periodical and journal articles.
For non-law and interdisciplinary materials, search the E-Journals list.
Citation to articles, documents, press releases, reports, statements, and other material found on the Internet is now common. While reading an online article, the reader can follow a footnote citation directly to the Internet source that supports the proposition.
Great when it works; frustrating when it doesn't. A 2002 Law Library Journal article * found that after four years, less than a third of Internet citations in law review articles were still accurate.
The Bluebook provides for citation to "Electronic Media and Other Nonprint Resources" in Rule 18. Citation to traditional printed sources is preferred EXCEPT
The Rule specifies how Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) should appear, the use of signals "available at" and "at," date of the material, pinpoint citations, and preservation of information. Included are examples of citations to cases, statutes, legislative material, administrative material, books, articles, and email.
The current edition of The Bluebook does not address the issue of Persistent (or Permanent) Uniform Resource Locators (PURLs). PURLs provide a consistent URL for material whose original URL is subject to change. For example, when a government agency reorganizes its entire website, most of the documents on that website are assigned new URLs. A PURL assigned to a document will redirect a user to its current URL.
Several library organizations are involved in creating PURLs and updating the URLs of documents found in their catalogs. For instance, the Superintendent of Documents' Catalog of U.S. Government Publications includes PURLs for many federal government documents.
A new website--perma.cc--
Citation to a document's PURL should be preferred over citation to its URL.
The Internet Archive is a source of more than 475 billion webpages, many of which are no longer to be found on the Internet. If you encounter a not found message after following a link from a search engine or other tool, visit the Internet Archive and type the URL into the Wayback Machine box. If the Internet Archive has visited and saved that page, you will find copies of it from many dates. And you can compare changes between two versions of the page using the Document Compare feature.
URLs to pages on the Internet Archive can be used like other URLs and are not subject to the "link rot" that is the plague of Internet citations.
Another way to preserve the integrity of citations to Internet sources is to save or download a copy of the document. This cached copy may be saved to the law review's website and a link to the cached copy can be added to the footnote. Then, despite changes to the documents or its URL or removal of the document from the Internet, the article reader would still have access to the source cited by the article's author. Bluebook rule 18.2.1(h) encourages "[d]ownloading, printing, or otherwise preserving the information as it exists at the time of access."
Is caching copyrighted or copyrightable material legitimate? Sounds like a good subject for a law review article! For starters, see Stefanie Olsen, Google Cache Raises Copyright Concerns.