How to Bluebook


Bluebook--"The citation guide that is generally considered the authoritative reference for America legal citations.
-Black’s Law Dictionary

Last week, my TA for Legal Writing hosted a session introducing us to the Bluebook.  Over the past eight years, I’ve used about five other citation styles so it was a little annoying to have to learn another one.  Though, hopefully, this will be the only one I’ll have to use again!

Learning to use the Bluebook isn’t that bad and what has been really helping me is the supplemental materials my professor required us to use.  The supplemental book is called Understanding and Mastering the Bluebook and has an online interactive workbook for an additional fee.  If you buy a new copy of the book, there’s a discount code for the online portion that comes with the book.  For my class, I’m required to complete the exercises online but I find them kind of fun.  They’re like a puzzle to figure out the correct way of citing something.

So, let's talk about the specifics of the Bluebook so you know a little bit about what’s contained in it.  It seems super mysterious and you might hear everyone talking about it but when it comes down to it it’s just a super detailed guide to citation.  It’s broken down into three parts:
  • Bluepages-general overview of the legal citation system
  • White pages-more elaborate discussion of the rules of citation and style
  • Tables-includes jurisdictions’ authorities and abbreviations for certain words and different states or geographical areas.
You may be wondering about the difference between the Bluepages and the Whitepages are.  Well, the Bluepages is like the Cliff Notes version of the Whitepages and every rule contained in the Blue pages references the more elaborate discussion in the Whitepages.  A nice feature the publishers of the Bluebook added is the different colored edges of the pages.  So the Bluepages are, you got it, blue!  In addition to these sections, the front and back covers have some super important features as well.  The front cover is a reference for law review (which you don’t really need to worry about your 1L year but is handy to know about after that) and the back cover is a quick reference of how to cite all of the frequently used sources, such as cases, statutes, the internet, etc.

In addition to going over this material, my TA told us to tab the pages that are frequently used in the Bluebook.  I’ll list them here and feel free to tab others that you deem important.  All of these page numbers are for the 20th edition but are in all of the other editions.  Here’s the list of tabbed pages:

  • Case Citation-pg. 10
  • Short Form Citation-pg. 16
  • Quotations-pg. 82
  • Cases (Whitepages explanation)-pg. 94
  • Internet resources-pg. 178
  • Table to Federal Judicial and Legislative Material-pg. 223
  • State of Your Choosing- starting on page 248 (this should be the state in which you go to school since they’ll likely require you to use binding sources from that state)
  • Tables of Abbreviations-pg. 496

There are two types of citations that are important: full citations and short form citations.  The first is the citation with all of the information necessary about the case being cited.  The second is used after the long form has been used and that same case is being referenced at a later point.

            Ex:  Muscarello v. United States, 524 U.S. 125 (1998).
                        Muscarello, 524 U.S. at 128.

As you can see, the Bluebook way of citing things is really not all that different from any other types of citation.  It’s just something you need to get used to.  That’s what I like about the online Mastering the Bluebook exercises; they provide multiple opportunities to understand the intricacies and it tells you what parts of the citation you got wrong and why.

Good luck to everyone learning how to use the Bluebook and I hope my recap of my TA session helps!


  1. I'm curious as to how you're supposed to include parallel citations in the bluebook style citation. In Yellow book for (Gotta love California for their special citations) citations, you put the year first and then the official book and then in brackets you're supposed to put the parallel citations down. It seems like it would be clunky to do that in Bluebook form. I'm curious as to how you learned to add parallels. :)

    1. In Bluebook form, you would put the two citations next to each other separated by a comma. The year stays at the end in parenthesis For example, the case I cited in this post would have a parallel citation of Muscarello v. United States, 524 U.S. 125, 118 S. Ct. 1911, (1998). I found this helpful YouTube video to help explain it a little better:! But definitely double check with your professor or law librarians for information specific to your state.

  2. Hi. Loved this! If you get a minute, take a look at my book "Cite-Checker: Your Guide to Using the Bluebook." It also helps to demystify "The Bluebook." Parallel citations are only needed for state court cases (not federal cases) and only when a judge/court requires them. You are right: California citation form is even more confusing then Bluebook style!


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