The OSCOLA citation guide

Five tops tips for using the OSCOLA law style in text

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With the summer dissertation submission time looming, over the next few weeks I’ll be taking a look at a number of aspects of OSCOLA, beginning with things to watch out for in the main text of your dissertation.

OSCOLA is a footnote style

The main thing to remember is that OSCOLA is a footnote style. All citations of legal cases, statutes, books and articles appear in footnotes at the bottom of the page. Don’t mix up footnotes with other styles such as Harvard. So, don’t use citations such as, Brown (2019). You just need to put a little superscript marker at the end of the sentence or quotation and put the source info at the bottom of the page. Longer works such as theses and dissertations should also have a bibliography or reference list, also formatted in OSCOLA style. I’ll look at these in future posts.

Superscript markers

Each footnote is indicated with a numbered superscript marker in the text. If you are writing your law essay using Word then footnotes can easily be entered using the Footnotes option on the References tab. This will ensure that the footnotes are consecutively numbered and appear at the bottom of the correct page. Either place the marker at the end of the sentence or after the phrase to which it relates. If the phrase is within a bracket put the marker before the closing bracket; if the marker is at the end of the sentence put the punctuation before the marker.

Keep punctuation to a minimum

OSCOLA uses minimum punctuation, so don’t put full stops or full points between the letters of abbreviations. For example, the United States should be abbreviated to US not U.S. The abbreviations ‘eg’ and ie’ are also used without punctuation, which takes a little getting used to. Date formatting is plain, too, with no abbreviation of second, third, fourth. The OSCOLA style also prefers to keep the use of what it calls ‘Latin gadgets’ to a minimum, including Latin phrases in the text – perhaps surprising when you consider there’s a fair bit of Latin terminology in law. The style guide also recommends keeping the use of italics, and quotes marks to highlight words, to a minimum.

Five tips for using OSCOLA in text

Here’s a quick reminder of the main style and punctuation issues to watch out for in the general text of your writing:

• Place punctuation inside the footnote marker
• Don’t use full stops between abbreviations: eg, etc and ie
• Italic in the text is used for case names and foreign words only
• Be sparing with use of ‘quote’ marks for highlighting or emphasising words
• The OSCOLA date format is day–month–year eg 1 April 2017

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