Reference Style: How to Cite a Source

Referencing is usually a standardized method of acknowledging sources of information or ideas. Reference is essential when quoting some authoritative views or statements from written works of others in the research work for literature review or substantiating his argument. Reference is needed both for intellectual honesty and for credibility for one’s research.

Reference implies direct quotation of facts, figures, ideas, theories from published and unpublished works. Reference is a citation of legal authority, cases, Acts, regulation, law books, or journals systematically and acceptably.

A legal researcher should demonstrate an understanding of the use of primary and secondary texts, the methods of locating cases and statutes, the use of treaties, periodicals, digests, and standard practitioner texts.

The citation may provide important information, support one’s argument or acknowledge sources, or even acknowledge authority that one is contesting. The citation requires sufficient information so that the reader can assess the importance of the source or find it in the library.

The main objectives of the citation or reference are:

  • to acknowledge and give credit to sources;
  • to prove that the author is not plagiarising;
  • to enable the readers to follow-up and read more on the topic discussed; and
  • to allow the readers to check references as quickly as possible.

The question of using reference or citation of works of others arises in the following three situations:

  1. Direct quotation

sometimes it becomes necessary to state the text or opinion of others without any change or modification. Direct quotation is recording the exact words of a source. Such direct quotation is critically important when such text or opinion is so significant or controversial, or its source is authoritative that it must be stated with utmost accuracy.

  1. Summary

It implies summarising the passage of other’s work by omitting examples, explanations, and other forms of elaboration. In the process of summary, a page in the original text may become a paragraph in your research, and a paragraph may become a sentence or a few words.

  1. Paraphrase

It is a restatement of the works of others. It denotes repetition of other works phrase by phrase but putting these in one’s own words.

Plagiarism and Academic dishonesty

Plagiarism simply means using other people’s works or ideas without authors’ names or quotation marks.

Thus, plagiarism occurs if someone lifts words or an idea from anywhere else and puts them into his own work without quotation marks. The complete or partial translation of a text written also constitutes plagiarism if the researcher does not acknowledge the source.

Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty are considered intellectual deceit.

The various types of academic dishonesty: the representation of a piece of unauthorized group work as the work of a single researcher; submitting a research work done by another person as one’s own work; inclusion of more than a single phrase from another’s work without the use of quotation marks and acknowledgment of source; summarising another’s work by changing a few words or altering the order of presentation without acknowledging, and use of another’s ideas without acknowledgment.

Plagiarism is condemned for two reasons: First, it deceives the reader; second, it wrongly denies credit to the people whose work is copied.

There are two main types of reference styles: Oxford and Harvard style.

Oxford Reference Style

In this system, each citation is given a unique number in the order in which it appears in the text. The details of the source are given either at the bottom of each page (called footnotes) or in a reference list at the end of the research paper (this is called end noting).

Thus, the Oxford reference system usually refers to the footnote/endnote system of citation of primary and secondary sources.

Use of Footnote and Endnote

A footnote is a note or a reference to a source of information, which appears at the foot (bottom) of a page. Footnoting should be numerical and chronological. Symbols can also use it. The footnote marker should appear after the relevant punctuation in the text (if any) and normally at the end of a sentence.

For the sake of clarity, it may sometimes be necessary to put the footnote after the word or phrase to which it relates. The advantage of footnoting is that the reader can cast their eyes down the page to discover a reference source that interests them.

The endnotes are placed at the end of the paper or document, or chapter rather than at the bottom of each page. A number is allocated to each source as it is referred to for the first time. Footnotes and endnotes serve the same purpose.

However, the researcher should be consistent in approach and use one or the other method. Footnotes or endnotes should be used to provide authority for a proposition, acknowledge a source relevant to an argument, provide information that enables the retrieval of relevant sources and quotations that appear in the text, and provide other information not appropriate to include in the text.

A semicolon should separate the sources if a series of sources are cited within one footnote.

Footnotes or endnotes to the title and authors) names should be designated as, etc. Footnotes or endnotes to the text should be designated as 1,2,3 etc. The asterisked footnote should give the author’s position, institutional address, and brief acknowdgele-ments if required.

In footnoting a repeat citation, use the author’s family name and the page number if the page number is different from the earlier footnote.

If you use two or more different publications by the same author, then, in a repeat citation, you also need to include part of the title to distinguish publications by the same author.

When a particular source is cited more than once in a paper, the full bibliographic details need not be provided each time in a footnote. In case of a repeat citation, the Latin abbreviations “ibid,” “op.” “cit.” is used.

Use of id or ibid

In the citation, ‘ibid, (Latin word ibidem, meaning ‘in the same place’) is used to mean that the same authority is cited as the immediately preceding citation. Thus, it refers to the second mention of the same work with no intervening entries (ibidem, meaning in the same place) related to the same work, cited immediately before.

Use of supra or op.cit

Supra or op. Cit (opera citato, meaning in work cited} indicates a source that has been previously cited and does not immediately precede the relevant footnote. Thus, supra is always accompanied by a footnote number represented by the symbol ‘note’ and followed by the number that directs the reader to the relevant source. In short, it means later mentioning the same work with intervening entries.

Use of Infra

It means citation of a discussion later in research work.

Et al. = and others

See- the term ‘See’ is used to indicate sources that support and supplement or assertion made in the main body of the chapter.

Generally, it directs the readers to sources that provide a general background to a particular concept or discussion point.

Sometimes researchers may read one author who cites another author. In such a case, the researcher should cite the primary author because he has not read the source. Put it another way, when one source is referred to in another source, the expression ‘quoted in’ should be used to indicate that the first listed source is quoted directly in the second source.

Harvard Reference Style

Under Harvard referencing system, a brief citation to a source is given within the text.

In this system, the sources of ideas, arguments, and supporting evidence are indicated by citing the author’s name and the date of publication of the relevant work, which is done at the appropriate point of the text. It refers to citations in the body of writing the author’s surname with the year of publication.

The full details of all the citations should be listed alphabetically by author name as a reference list at the end of the writing. Apart from this, if one wishes to acknowledge other sources that have been used, these should be given in separate bibliography.

The citation in the text is placed after the sentence or part thereof, followed by the year of publication, e.g., and a page number where appropriate.

The page number or page range is omitted if the entire work is cited. If an author published two books in 2005, the first (in the alphabetic order of the references) is cited and referenced as 2005a, the second as 2005b.

Then in a References section, a full citation is given:

Trechsel, Stefan, (2005) Human Rights in Criminal Proceedings, Oxford University Press.

Harvard citation system is used mostly in the sciences and social sciences rather than legal scholarship. Harvard citation system is largely derived from the Bluebook, which the Harvard Law Review Association had prepared to provide a uniform citation system. The Bluebook contains many rules for the reference of both primary and secondary materials.

Sources of Reference

Legal research involves using various legal materials, i.e., resources or information ranging from legal concepts or ideas to the governmental institutions that formulate legal rules.

In terms of hierarchy and legal authority, sources of reference are divided into two main categories: primary sources and secondary sources.

Thus, referencing is usually a list of primary sources and secondary sources used in the research.

Legal materials comprise both officials, primary statements of the law, and an extensive body of unofficial secondary writings of scholars and practicing lawyers. “The primary sources of law are those authoritative records of law made by law-making bodies.”

Primary sources are authorized statements of the law by governmental institutions- whether found in cases, statutes, regulations, or decisions of administrative bodies.

Such documents include the written opinions of courts, constitutions, legislation, rules of the court, the rules, regulations, and opinions of administrative agencies. In fact, categorization of primary and secondary sources describes the degree of persuasiveness of legal information in question.

The primary source is binding, meaning that a court must follow it, or the secondary source is persuasive, meaning that a decision-maker can, if so persuaded, follow it.

Primary sources pay special attention to the legal authority of the rules and provisions in use and the type of legal systems involved. In contrast, secondary sources are concerned with the explanation of the lay. Secondary sources give additional information and commentary about primary sources.

The secondary source refers to the law books, articles in books, journals, periodicals, treaties, decisions of the foreign courts, seminar or conference proceedings, annotated code, legal dictionaries, digests, encyclopedia, theses, or internet sources.

The secondary sources are not binding upon the court. Still, certain secondary sources such as the writing of learned and highly esteemed authors may well be of significant persuasive value in selecting between conflicting authorities.

The secondary sources have a lesser role as they may persuade judges to accept a certain interpretation of a statute. Nevertheless, they have some significance for both legal practitioners and academics. Secondary sources help them start the legal research process and may help them frame a legal argument when presenting their client’s case before a judge.

Primary sources are the legally binding rule or the official pronouncement of the governmental lawmakers, which figures prominently in all types of legal research. All computations of primary sources are publicly available. There are the following types of primary sources:

– International soft and hard law instruments. While soft law refers to Declarations, Resolutions, Agenda, Programmes of Actions, and other documents, which are non-binding in nature, hard law implies conventions, Treaties, Protocols, Agreements, which have binding forces.

– Constitution is the basic primary source used in all countries. A constitution is a document embodying a set of fundamental principles. It is the foundation of a country’s legal system and order.

– Legislation made by the parliament. A statute, sometimes referred to as legislation, is a positive statement of legal rules enacted by a legislature. The legislation represents a major component of legal regulation. The researcher should analyze the statute’s plain meaning and look for a broader context of the statute. Sometimes, the researcher has to look into a statute’s legislative history, which provides a background of the legislature’s intent in adopting the statute.

– The rules, regulations, orders, and by-laws of those bodies to whom Parliament has delegated authority;

– the authoritative reports of the decisions of the courts and administrative tribunals.

The judicial decisions or case law assist the legal researcher in interpreting the statute or constitutional provision in the context of a particular legal issue. Judicial decisions are treated as the second body of primary sources. They are a valuable source for interpreting the meaning of codified law.

Judicial decisions or case law include international and municipal decisions ranging from international tribunals and arbitral bodies to national supreme court and appellate courts.

However, the mandatory nature of judicial decision depends on the level of the court which issued the judgment. A lower court is required to follow a higher court’s ruling on an issue. A higher court is not required to follow the judgment or ruling of a lower court, although that judgment may be persuasive authority.

It is now generally acknowledged that judges often create new laws when applying precedent to current problems. The doctrine of precedent encompasses three closely related concepts represented by the Latin terms stare decisis, ratio decidendi, and obiter dictum.

But in the narrow sense, precedent implies a judicial decision that contains in itself a principle. The doctrine of precedent has been adhered to in common law countries because it promotes certainty, uniformity, and flexibility in the administration of justice.

The precedents are classified into two broad categories: original and declaratory precedents. An original precedent is created and applied as binding law for the first time.

On the other hand, a declaratory precedent does not create anything for the first time but merely declares or confirms the existing decision.

Stare decisis is the principle that the decision of a court is binding authority on the court that issued the decision and on lower courts in the same jurisdiction for the disposition of factually similar controversies.

The ratio decidendi is the holding or the principle of law on which the case was decided. It is the ratio decided that sets a precedent and is binding on courts in the future.

Ratio decidendi is the legal reasoning of the court, which leads inevitably and necessarily to the decision. It dictates that one court must follow the decision of a superior court when dealing with similar cases.

In contrast, “obiter dictum” is language in an opinion that is arguably not necessary to the decision. Obiter dicta statements are not binding on a later judge. However, it may be respected according to the judge’s reputation, the eminence of the court, and the circumstances in which it came to be pronounced.

Dictum comes from the Latin verb “decere,” “to say,” and refers to what is “said by the way,” specifically, that which is not essential to the holding of the decision.12 Dictum is an expression of opinion concerning the state of the law, and its resolution is not necessary for the decision.

Secondary sources

From the academic researcher’s perspective, books and journals are always useful source materials for research. They contain the accumulated wisdom on which the research project should build and the latest cutting-edge ideas shaping the research direction.

Legal writings in law journals are also a rich source of information on a particular point. The basic advantage of a textbook is that it deals with a specific area in depth. Moreover, the information contained in the books tends to be old.

For current research and theories regarding the subject, scholarly journals should be consulted. Decisions of other jurisdictions are also treated as secondary sources as they are not binding. Still, they can be persuasive because of the depth of analysis and quality of reasoning in the opinion.

Research work is likely to lose credibility if only secondary sources are used for information despite the availability of primary sources. However, use secondary sources as a starting point in any

research and, in particular, literature search. But avoid overreliance on secondary sources and make every effort to obtain primary sources of interest.

How to Cite a Primary Source

Legislative citation

Legislation is a primary source of law derived from sovereign authority. The law in legislation can be contained within a section or subsection or paragraph or sub-paragraph of an Act. There are two forms of legislative citation:

Full citation

A full citation should be used whenever you first mention an authority and whenever clarity would be promoted by communicating all the information found in a full citation.

Short-form citation

These may be used at any time after the authority has been introduced with a complete citation, except where a short form would confuse.

Citation of International Instrument

Since international law materials, including instruments, are intended for an international audience, citations must be given in a way that is both intelligible and accessible worldwide.

Citation of the international instrument usually requires the title of the treaty, declaration, date of signature, official source, reprinted, volume number and title of reporter, and page number.

If parties can accede to the treaty, cite the full date upon which the treaty was opened for signature. Otherwise, cite the date that it was signed or adopted. If available, then give the date it entered into force. It should refer to both official and unofficial sources.

The official source is UNO, ICJ, PCIJ, etc., whereas unofficial or secondary sources are International Legal Materials, Yearbook of the United Nations, Internet, etc. For instance, Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 23 May 1969, Printed in 8 International Legal Materials 679 (1969), (entered into force 27 January 1980)

For UN Treaty Series

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171 (ICCPR)
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (adopted 28 July 1951, entered into force 22 April 1954) 189 UNTS 137 (Refugee Convention) art 33
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948 UNGA Res 217 A(III) (UDHR) art 5
Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (adopted 31 January 1967, entered into force 4 October 1967) 606 UNTS 267 (Protocol) art 2

International Court of Justice decisions are compiled in the series Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions, and Orders. Contentious cases and advisory opinions are also available on the ICJ website at Documentation related to cases (such as written pleadings and oral arguments) are published after the decision in the series Pleadings, Oral Arguments, Documents (in the language of submission— English or French).

Examples of ICJ cases and pleadings follow.

Corfu Channel Case (UK v Albania) (Merits) [1949] ICJ Rep 4

Land, Island and Maritime Frontier Case (El Salvador/Honduras. Nicaragua intervening) (Application for Intervention) [1990] ICJ Rep 92

Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall

(Advisory Opinion) 2004 <> accessed 21 July 2005 [ 139]— [ 142]

Aerial Incident of July 27, 1955, Case (Israel v Bulgaria) ICJ Pleadings 530

The International Law Reports (ILR) is a source of international court and tribunal, arbitration, and municipal decisions. Other general sources of reports on international cases include International Legal Materials (ILM), International and Comparative Law Quarterly.

United Nations documents

When citing documents from the major bodies of the United Nations, including the unique document reference numbers that identify both the body from which the document is issued and the nature of the document. After the first mention, abbreviate ‘United Nations’ to ‘UN’; ‘UN Security Council’ to ‘UNSC’; ‘UN General Assembly to ‘UNGA’; and ‘Resolution’ to ‘Res.’ Cite the full names of lesser-known, or more specialized, UN organs or bodies, rather than their abbreviations.

UN Security Council (UNSC)
UNSC Res 1373 (28 September 2001) UN Doc S/RES/1373
UN General Assembly (UNGA)
UNGA Res 3314 (XXLX) (14 December 1974)

Case Citation

The main purpose of citing a case is to allow readers to locate and read the complete decision of the case. Reference to judicial decisions may be set out in full throughout the judgment. A case citation should contain.

  • the name of the parties in the case;
  • the date that the decision of the court was delivered. The date that appears in a citation serves the basic purpose of allowing the researcher to know when the case was decided, that is when it was handed down. However, some law reports use the date to identify the various volumes of the law reports.
  • the volume number of the law report series where it has been printed (reported);
  • the abbreviation of that report series, and
  • the first page of the report.

For instance, State vs. Md. Shafiqul Islam alias Rafique and another 43 (1991) DLR (AD) 92

If specific pages are referred to:

State vs. Md. Shafiqul Islam alias Rafique and another 43 (1991) DLR (AD) 92 at 94.

No full stops should be used in the law reports abbreviation, e.g., BLD, DLR, ALL ER, WLR, etc.

A case citation should also contain both page and paragraph numbering. Usually, for referring to a principle of decision, the conventional citation will take a reader to the first page of the judgment. But for using a quotation or particular aspect of a judgment, it is necessary to cite both page and paragraph within the judgment.

It is also common practice in legal writing to shorten cases where unduly long party names are involved.

How to Cite a Secondary Source

The citation of the secondary source should include the following: For Book Citation:

  • Author/Editor(s),
  •  Title
  • Edition, if there is any
  • Publisher
  • Place of Publication
  • Date of Publication: only the year
  • Page numbers

For instance,

For edited book, D. Zilman, Alastair and Pring, (eds.), Human Rights in Natural Resource Development- Public Participation in the Sustainable Development of Mining and Energy Resources, Oxford, Oxford University Press, (2002).
For citing an article in an edited book, Andrew Ashworth, ‘Belief, Intent, and Criminal Liability,’ in John Eekelaar and John Bell (ed.). Oxford Essays in Jurisprudence, Third Series, Clarendon Press, Oxford, (1987), pp. 1-31

For journal article citation

  • author(s);
  • the name of the article enclosed in single quotation marks;
  • volume number;
  • the name of the journal in italics;
  • date of publication: month and year;
  • page (s), or page range.

Do not include issue numbers unless the page numbers begin again for each issue within a volume: in that case, but the issue number in parentheses after the volume number.

Other Sources

Newspaper and Magazine Articles: The author’s name, article title, Newspaper, date, page, or section.

Reference of Internet Sources

For journal articles, books, case law, newspaper articles, and other documents accessed via the Internet, simply cite as normal, adding the website address in angle brackets (omitting HTTP://) and the date the material has accessed the end of the citation. For example, Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, 8 July 1996, ICJ, Advisory Opinion, paras. 61-63, icases/iunan/iunanframe.htm, visited on 29 March, 2006.

UN Global Compact for the New Century, at, last visited on 25 March 2006.

Citation of Interview

If the author is also the interviewer, provide the name, position, and institution (as relevant) of the interviewee, location of the interview, and full date.


The bibliography is an alphabetical list of all materials consulted in the presentation of research work. A bibliography is a record of all the sources consulted in preparing a research paper. It assists those interested in developing the research interest further or investigating a research area from another perspective.

Usually, the references in the bibliography are arranged alphabetically by primary and secondary sources. In secondary sources it is divided into books, journals, periodicals, reports, conference proceedings.

The information required in a bibliography includes the author’s name, the title of the work, the name and city location of the publisher, and the publication date. Special information such as revisions, editions, volumes, multiple authors, editors is also recorded.

Format of Bibliography

  1. 1. Primary Sources
    1. International Instruments
    2. National Laws
    3. Decision of Tribunals
  2. 2. Secondary Sources
    1. Books
    2. Articles
    3. Other

In the bibliography, the author’s family name comes before initials in a bibliography entry (or the family name of the first-listed author, if there is more than one). But in footnotes endnotes, the initials of all authors come before their family names.

A bibliography (or a reference list) is arranged alphabetically according to the family name of the authors. No numbers are used.

Example of Bibliography


  • author’s surname(s) and initial(s)
  • year of publication
  • title of the book (underlined or italicized)
  • publisher
  • place of publication

Chapter or article in an edited book

Author, ‘Title of the chapter’ in X and Y (eds), Title of Book, Publisher, City, year, pp. x-x.

Soros, Marvin S. ‘Global Institutions and the Environment, in Norman J. Vig and Regina S. Axelrod (eds.) (1999) The Global Environment: Institutions, Law and Policy Earthscan, London, pp. 27-51.

List information in journals should be arranged in the following order.

  • author’s surname(s) and initial(s)
  • year of publication
  • title of the article (between single quotation marks)
  • title of journal or periodical (underlined or italicized)
  • volume number
  • issue number
  • page number(s)

A book by a single author:

Stiglitz, J. (2002) Globalisation and its discontents. London: Allen Lane.

A book by two authors:

Cooper, J. and Dhavan, R. (1986) Public Interest Law, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.

A book by more than two authors should have all the authors acknowledged:

Campbell, T., Goldsworthy, J., and Stone, A. (2003) Protecting Human Rights, Oxford: Oxford University Press

A book by a corporate author (e.g., a government department or other organization):

United Nations. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2001) World public sector report: globalization and the state 2001. New York: United Nations.

An edited book:

Norman J. Vig and Regina S. Axelrod (eds.) (1999), The Global Environment: Institutions, Law and Policy, Earthscan, London.

A chapter in a book:

Petersmann, Ernst-Ulrich, (2005) ‘Human Rights and International Trade Law: Defining and Connecting the Two Fields,’ in Thomas Cottier, Joost Pauwelyn and Elisabeth Burgi (ed.) Human Rights and International Trade, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 29-94.

An article in a journal by one author:

An article in a journal by two or more authors: As with books (see above), you should list all the authors in the reference or bibliography.

An article in a newspaper:

Leadbetter, C. (2002) Why globalization is a good thing: analysis. The Times, June 26, p.6.

Thesis or Dissertation

Most dissertations and theses are unpublished, so they need a special citation method:

Malik, Shahdeen (1994) The Transformation of Colonial Perceptions into Legal Norms: Legislation for Crime and Punishment in Bengal, Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, London, SOAS.

Use of Italicising

The purpose of italicizing certain parts of a text contrasts them with the rest of the text. Sometimes italics are used for emphasizing some sections of the text. Usually, foreign and Latin words should be italicized. However, italics should be used sparingly. If they are used too often, the emphasis will be weakened.

The citation of all case names should be italicized. However, the word case and the v. should not be italicized—for example, Murbary v. Madison case. However, the word ‘versus’ is usually avoided in the citation of cases. All signals should be italicized. For example, see, see also, see generally, supra, ibid and e.g.


The works of other’s works, judgments, statutes, etc., must have quotation marks around them and a citation to the source. Any comment on the quotation should be in the text or a footnote.

Incorporate quotations of three lines or less into the text within single quotation marks. Quotations within short quotations take double quotation marks.

Quotations should be enclosed in double quotation marks (“ ”). Single quotation marks (‘ ’) are used to distinguish words, concepts, or short phrases under discussion. In general, the quoted matter is reproduced verbatim, even to errors in spelling, etc.

Some matter, however, is usually deleted in a quotation, page reference may be added, emphasis supplied. Long quotations (quotations of more than three or four lines) should be indented on both sides. To emphasize a particular aspect of quotation, text can be italicized. At the end of the quotation, or in a footnote, use the form below:

(Emphasis supplied) (Italics supplied).

Use an ellipsis (three dots) when omitting a word, phrase, line, paragraph, or more from a quoted passage. Begin with an ellipsis (…) when a quotation starts mid-sentence.

Abbreviations in footnotes

In footnotes or endnotes, the following abbreviations are used:

  • -pp .= pages
  • -p. =page
  • Para.= paragraph Paras. = paragraph

Explanatory Notes

Sometimes it is necessary to give an explanation of technical terms or important concepts used in research. This explanatory note can be placed either in a footnote or endnote. It is better to avoid your own ideas or important arguments in explanatory notes.

Read Related Posts /