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The Bluebook: A Systematic Approach: A Step-by-Step Approach

Before You Start

The Step-by-Step Approach will be much clearer to you if you have your Bluebook in hand. If your own copy is not available, you can check one out from the Circulation Desk at the Schoenecker Law Library.

Step One

Figure out what you’re looking at.


Before you can find a citation rule, you have to figure out what you’re citing to. In most cases this will be simple. You will mostly be using case law, statutes and regulations within your writing. But non-legal sources are increasingly being used in legal writing to provide background information and support policy arguments. Also, the internet now provides access to material not formerly used because it was too hard to find.


Look at the three screen shots that follow. They are the first three pages of something you would like to cite. What are you looking at? 

This page tells you that it’s research on road funding in Minnesota. Hmm. What does 2007-26 mean? The logo at the top tells you that the Minnesota Department of Transportation was involved as well as the Local Road Research Board. 



This page expands your knowledge.

·         It’s a technical report.

·         The report number is MN/RC 2007-26 (That’s what that means!).

·         There are two personal authors, Barry M. Ryan and Thomas F. Stinson

·         The research was performed by the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota under the sponsorship of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

·         The report was issued in June, 2007.


And here’s the title page.



A good look at all these pages suggests that the best thing to call this material is a report. Once you’ve identified what you’re looking at, proceed to Step 2.

Step Two


Locate the Appropriate Rule Using The Bluebook’s Powerful Secret Weapons


As you use The Bluebook, it will become second nature to consult some rules. You’ll spend a lot of time in Rule 10 on case law, Rule 12 on statutes and Rule 14 on administrative and executive materials. These three classes of material will form the backbone of your arguments. Every now and then, however, you will be citing to something else as in Step 1 above. What do you do to find the appropriate rule?


Use The Bluebook’s two Powerful Secret Weapons: 

·         the Index

·         the Table of Contents


The Index is the subject guide to The Bluebook, located at the end of the book. It’s excellent. Why?


·         It offers a lot of ways to get where you’re going. 

Example: You need to cite to Canon Law of the Catholic Church. You can find the rule by looking under Canon Law or Catholic Church, codes or Roman Catholic Church. 


·         If you look under a heading that the index doesn’t use, it will send you to one it does.

Example: You want to know how to format jump cites. The index entry you’ll find will be Jump cites (See Pinpoint citations). When you look under Pinpoint citations, you’ll find the rules you need. 


·         It has extensive subheadings, leading you to exactly what you need.

Example: You are slightly altering a quotation. How do you format the revised quote? Go to the heading Quotations and skim down. You won’t have to go far to find the subheading Alteration of which will lead you to the right rule.


But you’ll discover that sometimes the index magic works and sometimes it doesn’t. Let’s go back to our road funding report in Step 1. If you look under the index heading Reports, you’ll discover four types of reports, none of them related to the report you identified in Step 1. So on to the second Powerful Secret Weapon: the Table of Contents. It appears in two places:


·         In abbreviated form on the outside back cover. Sometimes this is all you need.


·         In great detail beginning on page ix.


·         Skim either of these tables and you’ll encounter Rule 15 on Books, Reports and Other Nonperiodic Materials which “governs the citation of books, treatises, reports, white papers, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and all other nonperiodic materials.” Rule 15 is where you need to be for the report on road expenditures.


Congratulations!  You’ve found your rule. Proceed to Step 3.

Step Three

Look at the entire rule and see which parts of it relate to your citation.


The rules attempt to cover every contingency, so you will probably not need to use every section of the rule you’ve found. You have determined that Rule 15 applies to the report that you want to cite. Rule 15 is broken down as follows:


15.1    Author

15.2    Editor or Translator

15.3    Title

15.4    Edition, Publisher, and Date

15.5    Shorter Works in Collection

15.6    Prefaces, Forewords, Introductions, and Epilogues

15.7    Serial Number

15.8    Special Citation Forms

15.9    Electronic Media and Online Sources

15.10   Short Citation Forms


So what actually applies to your report on road expenditures?



·         15.1.  There are authors listed.

·         15.3.  Duh.

·         15.4.  Publisher and date are present.

·         15.7.  That mysterious 2007-26.



·         15.8.  You need to check this to find out what “special citation forms” are. 

But when you check this rule you’ll discover that the special forms relate to a few specific works and you don’t need them for this citation.


·         15.10. Short citations.  If you refer to a piece of material more than once in your writing, you may be able to use an abbreviated citation for it, following this rule.


Once you’ve “fine-tuned” your rule in this way, you’re ready for Step 4.

Step Four

Track down the cross references within the applicable rule sections.


The Bluebook makes extensive use of references to other rules and to tables to format a full citation. You need to be aware of this fact as you use the rules and craft your citations.


Example: Rule 15.1(d) on authors requires you to use abbreviations for institutional authors’ names and sends you to Tables T6 and T10 to find the abbreviations.


Example: Rule 15.3 on titles sends you to Rule 8 for instructions on capitalization.


Example: Rule 15.10 on short citation forms for books and reports refers you to Rule 4 for short citation forms in general.


Now, with material like your road funding report, reasonable people can disagree about which rules might apply and how a citation should look and that’s OK. Lawyers and judges can spot a miscited case, statute or regulation in an eyeblink, but with a report like this, if you’ve given readers enough information to find it, you’ve done your job.


So here’s my citation. YMMV.


Barry M. Ryan & Thomas F. Stinson, Univ. of Minn., Local Road Funding History in Minnesota, Report No. RC/MN 2007-26 (Minn. Dep’t of Transp. 2007).