Cite-Checking & Library Research

Updated May 18, 2015.
Prepared by Cheryl Nyberg.


Note: Commercial databases cited herein may be restricted to users with UW NetIDs or passwords.

Purpose of Citations

"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.

Citation Format Tools

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:

  • Prince's Dictionary of Legal Citations, 8th ed. (2011). An alphabetic list of titles and terms with their corresponding Bluebook abbreviations. Lots of examples. KF246.B45 2011 at Reference Area & Reference Office
  • Introduction to Basic Legal Citation puts citation rules in context, including both The Bluebook and its recent competitor, the ALWD Citation Manual, 3d ed., 2006 (compiled by the Association of Legal Writing Directors).
  • Interactive Citation Workbook for The Bluebook. Helpful for learning the details of citation construction. KF245.I48, current edition at Reference Area

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.


Cite-Checker's Triage

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.

  1. Read the article.
  2. Browse the footnotes.
  3. Identify citations to unfamiliar types of material, nonlegal sources, other unusual material, and foreign language sources (especially for countries and languages outside of the Gallagher Law Library's collection strengths; see Call Numbers for Foreign Law for a brief description).
  4. Consult a reference librarian for assistance in deciphering odd citations and identifying and locating items found in step 3.
  5. Search for books and other treatises using library catalogs, in the following order:
    1. Summit. Covers more than 30 academic libraries in Oregon and Washington, including the Gallagher Law Library and the UW Libraries. UW faculty, students, and staff may directly request items that are not available in the Law Library from Summit.
    2. OCLC WorldCat. Covers thousands of academic, public, law firm, special, government, and corporate libraries around the world.
  6. Check out books and initiate retrieval requests.
  7. Consult a reference librarian about books not found in any catalogs in step 5.
  8. Submit interlibrary loan requests for books not available from sources in step 5.
  9. Search for interdisciplinary and/or nonlegal periodicals in the UW Libraries Catalog, by title of the periodical. Also consult the E-Journals list.
  10. Search for law reviews and other legal periodicals in HeinOnline, by citation or the title of the law review or periodical.
  11. Search for court reporters and other primary legal sources in:
    1. Westlaw: PDF images of cases found in the National Reporter System
    2. HeinOnline: PDF images of the Code of Federal Regulations, the Congressional Record, the Federal Register, the U.S. Code, and other titles
  12. Retrieve materials requested from Summit and interlibrary loan.

Retrieving Cited Sources in Print

Gallagher Law Library

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.

Other UW Libraries & Affiliated Libraries

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:

  • Seattle University Law Library
  • Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College, Paul L. Boley Law Library
  • University of Oregon, John E. Jaqua Law Library
  • Willamette College of Law, J.W. Long Law Library

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.

Interlibrary Loan

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.


Retrieving Cited Sources Online

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

West Reporter Images

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.

Hein Online

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:

  • American Journal of International Law, from volume 1, 1907
  • Columbia Law Review, from volume 1, 1901
  • Harvard Law Review, from volume 1, 1887
  • Michigan Law Review, from volume 1, 1902
  • Texas Law Review, from volume 1, 1922
  • University of Pennsylvania Law Review, from volume 1, 1852
  • Washington Law Review, from volume 1, 1925

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).

GPO Access

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

LLMC Digital is an online collection of government reports in PDF. It also includes PDF images of many early state court reports.

Full-Text Databases with PDF Articles

Numerous other sources provide PDF images of periodical and journal articles.

For non-law and interdisciplinary materials, search the E-Journals list.


Internet Sources

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.

Bluebook Rules

The Bluebook provides for citation to "Electronic Media and Other Nonprint Resources" in Rule 18. Citation to traditional printed sources is preferred EXCEPT

  • "when the information is not available in a printed source"; that is, "born digital" and Internet-only sources
  • "or if the traditional source is obscure or hard to find and when citation to an electronic source will substantially improve access to the same information contained in the traditional source"

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.

Persistent URLs

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

archives a copy of the referenced content, and generates a link to an unalterable hosted instance of the site. Regardless of what may happen to the original source, if the link is later published by a journal using the service, the archived version will always be available through the link.

Readers who click on a link are taken to a page that lets them choose to go to the original site (which may have changed since the link was created) or see the archived copy of the site in its original state. is an online preservation service developed by the Harvard Law School Library in conjunction with university law libraries across the country and other organizations in the “forever” business.

Citation to a document's PURL should be preferred over citation to its URL.

Internet Archive

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.

Cached Copies

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


* Mary Rumsey, Runaway Train: Problems of Permanence, Accessibility, and Stability in the Use of Web Sources in Law Review Citations, 94 L. Libr. J. 27 (2002).


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