Latin shortcuts

OSCOLA Back to basics: Footnotes

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Continuing the theme of the previous blog post, this post takes a look at the intricacies of formatting OSCOLA footnotes. This is one of the primary features of OSCOLA, which is a footnote-based style. All citations of legal cases, statutes, books and articles appear in footnotes at the bottom of the page.

Footnotes and their superscript markers

There are very slight differences between footnotes and bibliography citations, which I’ll cover in the future, let’s first concentrate on the basics. In the running text – the main writing of your dissertation – each footnote is indicated with a numbered superscript marker in the text. Just use the Word Footnotes option on the References tab to enter each footnote in the correct place, as discussed in the previous blog post. You’ll also need to decide, depending on the length of your work, whether you will start the footnotes afresh at the beginning of each chapter, or whether you will continue the numbering throughout the document. If you decided to restart every chapter afresh, then you will need to cite each entry in full the first time you use it, rather than continuing shortened citations.

Formatting footnotes

So assuming you’ve placed your marker in the correct place, now let’s worry about what goes on at the bottom of the page. The wording of each footnote has to be styled according to the type of material. There are layouts for cases and statutes (called primary sources), and other legal documents, books, journal articles, and other more unusual materials (called secondary sources). In the next few weeks, I’ll look at each of these in detail. For now, just remember that you need to check the correct layout of each one. It’s not that difficult and once you get the hang of it, you’ll soon remember them.

In terms of styling the footnote itself, the number is usually in superscript; the wording in normal font, but one or two sizes smaller than the font size of your normal text. Say you are using Times New Roman 12 pt (TNR) for your main text, then use TNR 10 pt for the footnotes. Some people prefer to use a different font for the footnotes, but personally I think a dissertation or thesis looks neater if the same font is used throughout, unless you are formatting with Styles.

Using Latin

Close each footnote with a full stop. If there is more than one citation in a single footnote separate them with a semi-colon. Avoid what OSCOLA calls ‘Latin gadgets’, except ‘ibid’ which can be used to repeat a citation in the immediately preceding footnote. Remember this refers to the footnote immediately before – not another footnote on the same page or one in a different chapter. The word ibid is not in italics and always has a small case ‘i’ – Word does not like this, and may try to overrule you! Some people like to use the Latin gadget op cit. to refer to a footnote in a different place, op cit. (note the cit. has a full stop) means ‘previously cited’. The OSCOLA guide advises against these and other shortcuts such as supra, so I try to avoid these if possible. However, some footnote short cuts are available.

Footnote shortcuts

You don’t need to cite the full reference very time it is repeated, there are various shortcuts that can be used and I’ll take a closer look at those in the next blog post. Meanwhile, if the thought of formatting a few hundred footnotes is too daunting, send me an enquiry. I’m always happy to check the layout of OSCOLA footnotes when proofreading a law thesis or dissertation.

Latin shortcuts
Using Latin in footnotes
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