As an academic editor and proofreader specialising in law, one of the referencing styles I work with most often is OSCOLA, the legal referencing system. Many law students experience difficulty with this style. 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 running text of your dissertation.
The Oxford Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities was developed at Oxford University in 2000. Its objective is consistency and clarity, and it keeps punctuation to a minimum. Oscola is a footnote style. All citations of legal cases, statutes, books and articles appear in footnotes 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. Now in its fourth edition, a comprehensive pdf guide to OSCOLA can be downloaded here, free under a creative commons licence. It’s essential to have a copy at your side when preparing or checking footnotes and references.
Each footnote is indicated with a numbered superscript marker in the text.¹ 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 phrase² to which it relates, as I did with number two. If the phrase is within a bracket (like this¹) put the marker before the closing bracket; if the marker is at the end of the sentence put the punctuation before the marker, as with number one.
If you place the full stop after the footnote marker there is an unsightly gap in the text, can you see the difference between numbers one and two, and the placing of this marker³ ? The question mark appears to be swimming around on its own. Oscola also prefers to keep the use of what it calls ‘Latin gadgets’ to a minimum, including Latin phrases in the text and keeps the use of italics to a minimum. The abbreviations ‘eg’ and ie’ are also used without punctuation, which takes a little getting used to, and date formatting is plain, with no abbreviation of second, third, fourth used.
Here’s a quick reminder of the main style and punctuation issues to watch out for in the general text of your writing:
• Place the punctuation inside the footnote marker
• Don’t use full stops between abbreviations or 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
• OSCOLA date format is day–month–year eg 1 April 2017
Help is at hand
The Oscola guide stretches to some fifty pages, so these are just a few highlights. In the next blog post I’ll look at formatting footnotes. I hope that you find these to be useful pointers, if you have any questions or need help proofreading your law dissertation please contact me.