A few weeks ago I wrote about academic reference styles. One of the styles I work with most often is OSCOLA, the legal referencing system. Many law students experience difficulty with this style, but if you can master the basic principles I find that it is actually one of the easiest to use and most pleasing to the eye.
OSCOLA stands for Oxford Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities; it’s an acronym (click here for more about acronyms). It was developed at Oxford University in 2000 – long after I completed my law degree, I must confess. 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. Oscola is now in its fourth edition and a comprehensive pdf guide 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.
Footnotes and bibliography
There are very slight differences between footnotes and bibliography citations: footnotes end with a full stop, biblio references don’t, and the order and layout of authors’ names in secondary references is slightly different – always check. A few things I have noted about formatting footnotes are detailed below.
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 right page. Place the marker at the end of the sentence or after the phrase to which it relates, as I did with number two. 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.
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. The word ibid is not in italics and refers to the previous footnote, not one on another page. Note: ibid always has a small case ‘i’ – Word does not like this!
Help is at hand
The Oscola guide stretches to some fifty pages, so these are just a few highlights. I’ll examine a few more in a future blog post. I hope that you find these to be useful pointers. 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.