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Law: Citing Legal Sources: Online Support Guide

This guide will assist you to cite legal sources for your assignments and dissertations

   Referencing Guidance

This general guidance for referencing is intended to be used by undergraduate students at the University of Exeter. These notes should be used in conjunction with the Exeter guide for the referencing style you have been asked to use (e.g. Chicago, MLA, Vancouver, etc.).

You will come across many different styles of referencing while reading at university. The advice provided in the referencing guidance documents is designed to make it clear how to use each style when writing.

The guidance is provided to help you with your academic work only. If you are writing for publication, you will need to adhere to the referencing style of that specific publisher.

Referencing correctly is an essential academic skill. You are required to refer to the sources you use when producing written assignments at university. There are several reasons for this.

  • It gives acknowledgment to another person or organisation's ideas and research.
  • It demonstrates your reading and provides evidence for the argument you are making.
  • It helps the reader find the source of the information and ideas in your writing.
  • It helps you to avoid plagiarism. Plagiarism means presenting another person’s words or ideas as your own or modifying another person’s words and ideas without proper acknowledgment. Plagiarism, whether deliberate or accidental, is not tolerated within the academic community at the University of Exeter. For more information on how to study with academic integrity, look for the ‘Academic honesty and plagiarism’ module for your discipline on ELE.
  • When quoting directly from a published source.

  • When summarising or paraphrasing ideas from a published source.

  • When paraphrasing a definition found on a website even if no writer, editor or author’s name is shown.

  • When using data or statistics, photographs or other images that are freely available from a book, journal article or publicly accessible website.

(Adapted from Neville (2008)

When writing at university you will use information from a range of different sources. Your tutors will direct you to some but others you will have to find for yourself. You need to select these sources carefully and acknowledge them in your work by providing in-text citations and a reference list, or in some disciplines, footnotes and a bibliography.

You need to evaluate your sources to assess their reliability, authority and validity before you decide to use them. As a general rule, you should not refer to sources such as book reviews, Wikipedia or lecture notes in your work. Do not use or refer to essays that you have found online as these may come from ‘essay mills’ and are therefore not reliable sources. For further guidance on evaluating sources, take a look at the Evaluating Sources LibGuide Tutorial.

Engaging with a broad range of resources will ensure that you gain a comprehensive knowledge of the topic and show that you are willing to research widely. Different sources contain different kinds of information and present different perspectives. For example, journal articles are likely to be more specialist than a general text book. Your reference list will enable you to demonstrate:

  • How extensively you have engaged with the topic.

  • Your awareness of current research and thinking.

  • That your writing is evidence-based and does not rely on personal opinion.

Knowing how to cite and reference is an essential academic skill. Knowing how and when to integrate literature by quoting, paraphrasing and summarising is part of this key skill. 

Quotations, which should be succinct, generally use double quotation marks (“quotation”). The source should be cited and a page number provided. Any alterations to the original text should be indicated by using the following conventions.

  • Use an ellipsis, three dots (…) to show you have omitted part of the quotation
  • Use sic in square brackets [sic] to note an error or spelling mistake
  • Use square brackets [  ] to add your own word or phrase to the quotation

Paraphrasing and summarising are employed when it is preferable to use your own words to refer to source material. Both require a citation to be provided. In some disciplines, paraphrasing and summarising are the preferred means of integrating sources into your writing as it enables the writer to demonstrate their understanding.

It is your responsibility to familiarise yourself with the norms and conventions of your discipline for integrating sources. Note that in-text citations and /or your reference list may contribute towards the word count for an assignment. Check with your module leader if you are not sure.

For more help with citing and referencing: 
At Exeter contact Study Zone about a 1-1 appointment, attending a Writing Café or other study skills workshop. 
At Penryn contact ASK: Academic Skills team for further support.

A DOI is a unique alpha numeric string that provides a permanent link to the document’s location online. You can often find the DOI on the title page of the journal article. 

Use the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) if the source has one – it is preferable to a URL as it never changes; because of this you do not need to include a retrieval date for a reference that has a DOI (but check the rules of the style you are using just to make sure of the conventions of the style). 

Use the URL for sources that have no DOI and give the retrieval date (some styles such as APA don’t require a retrieval date, but you are advised to include one for a source that is not in a fixed, non-editable format). is a website that allows you to check whether a source has its own DOI and has a tool for locating a source that does have a DOI. You can turn a DOI into a URL by appending the DOI to 

The Law School uses the OSCOLA referencing style


Other styles are used within the University - use the online University Referencing Guide for full information

OSCOLA (The Oxford University Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities) was developed to facilitate accurate citation of authorities, legislation, and other legal materials. It is widely used in law schools and by journal and book publishers in the UK and beyond. OSCOLA is edited by the Oxford Law Faculty, in consultation with the OSCOLA Editorial Advisory Board.

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