Taking a Look at the Dreaded Bluebook

By Ian Pisarcik, Legal Publications Attorney Editor

I have a confession to make: I like The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. I actually think it’s well organized for the amount of information it contains, and I think there are good reasons behind many of the rules. Mary Whisner, a reference librarian at the University of Washington School of Law, provides a good example:

Most law reviews are paginated consecutively through a volume, so we can cite an article unambiguously by volume and page: 79 J.Name 36 (2003). But if a journal or magazine starts numbering with page one each issue within a volume, then the rule has to be different. Volume 79 of a given journal might have twelve different articles starting on page 36, so it makes sense instead to cite journals that are not paginated consecutively with the format: J.Name, June 2003, at 36.

I even sort of enjoy thumbing through The Bluebook. But, I realize most attorneys aren’t as nerdy enamored with The Bluebook as I am. I would wager that most attorneys are more likely to recognize the sentiments of Judge Richard Posner:

Needless to say, I have not read the nineteenth edition. I have dipped into it, much as one might dip one’s toes in a pail of freezing water. I am put in mind of Mr. Kurtz’s dying words in Heart of Darkness¾‘The horror! The horror!’¾and am tempted to end there.

Nevertheless, in the interest of making The Bluebook a more familiar (if not a more comfortable) place to visit, I thought I would take the next couple posts to point out a few rules I commonly see ignored or misinterpreted.

  1. Omissions (Rule 5.3)

    Omitting words when using quoted language can be tricky. Thus, attorneys should review Rule 5.3. In particular, attorneys should keep in mind that ellipsis should never be used when individual words are merely altered. Moreover, when omitting the end of a sentence, the punctuation at the end of the sentence must still follow the ellipses. This means that when the sentence ends in a period, the attorney will need to insert a total of four periods (e.g., “If land becomes disqualified on or after July 1, it will be assessed as farmland . . . .”).

  2. Introductory signals (Rule 1.3)

    When using more than one signal in a citation string, signals of the same type¾supportive, comparative, contradictory, or background¾must be strung together within a single citation sentence and separated by semicolons. On the other hand, signals of different types must be grouped in different citation sentences. Here’s an example: See Hope Vill., Inc. v. Dep’t of Revenue, 17 OTR 370 (2004); cf. Polk Cnty. v State Dep’t of Revenue, 14 OTR 566 (1999). See generally Gangle v. Dep’t of Revenue, 13 OTR 343 (1995). But see Catherine’s Residence, Inc. v. Dep’t of Revenue, State of Or, 14 OTR 500, 502 (1998).

  3. Signals as verbs (Rule 2.1(d))

    The word “see” should be italicized when it is being used as a signal, but not when it is part of a sentence (e.g., “For further discussion of special assessments, see chapter 57.”)

More next week . . .

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1 Response to Taking a Look at the Dreaded Bluebook

  1. Evan Guthrie says:

    Fan of the Bluebook as well. Thanks for the insight.

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