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Bluebook Legal Citation

A guide to legal citation using Bluebook rules.

Digital Materials

Bluebook Rule (21st): 18

In general, the Bluebook requires citation to traditional printed sources when available. However, in several instances, the Bluebook permits citation to the digital copy, either directly or as a parallel citation.

 

General Rules for citing electronic documents

Bluebook Rule (21st): 18.2.1

Below are some general guidelines for citing electronic media in Bluebook format:

  • You can cite directly to internet sources where a traditional printed format does not exist, or where it exists but cannot be found. You should not include an "available at" with direct citations to internet sources.
  • Authenticated documents, official documents, or exact copies of the source documents (like PDF scans of originals) are cited as if they were the print document.
  • When a print copy of a document exists but is practically unavailable, you can cite the digital source including the URL without an "available at" pointer.
  • When an electronic version exists, and including a parallel citation to it would improve the reader's access to the document, include the URL with an available at pointer.

 

Direct Citations to Internet Sources

Bluebook Rule (21st): 18.2.2

  • When you cite an internet source, you should include information that will provide the easiest path of access to the reference, like the title, pagination, and publication date.
  • If there is an author available, include that information. If there is no clear author, do not use an author unless there is a clear institutional owner of the domain.
  • Titles should come either from the title bar or from any heading that identifies the page.
  • A website’s main page title should be cited in small caps.
  • The date should appear in your citation as it appears on the website. If there is no date, you should include the date that you last visited the cite in a parenthetical after the URL. If the online source has been updated since it was originally posted, use the date and time of the update instead of the original posting date/time.
  • If there is a shortlink available that clearly identifies the source site (e.g. wapo.st, imbd.to, etc.), then rule 18.2.2(d) prefers the use of the shortlink. If the shortlink does not clearly identify the source site (e.g. bit.ly), then the full URL should be used.   

 

Citation to commercial electronic databases

Bluebook Rule (21st): 18.3

  • Cases: You can cite an electronic database when a case is unreported but available on a widely used electronic database. You should include the case name, docket number, database identifier, court name, and full date. Refer to rule 10.8.1(a) for further guidance.
  • Statutes: You should cite codes from a commercial electronic database according to rule 12.5(a), adding the name of the electronic database and information about the currency of the database.
  • Books, Periodicals, and other Secondary Materials: Rule 18.3.4 specifies that if a source is available in both electronic and print, you can include a parallel citation to a commercial electronic database using "available at."