Last month I shared five tips for a great legal writing assignment. Number five on this list was to proofread and double-check citations. However, many students are still struggling with this step (according to what my students are sharing with me). Because of this, today I wanted to share with you why I think citations are important and how you should approach your assignment to make sure that citations don’t get ignored (as this often leads to easy missed points come grading time).
What are citations and why do we use them?
Citations are how we tell readers where we found something. For instance, if readers are interested in a point we made, they may want to go look up the case themselves to read more about it. A quality citation (including a page number, or pin cite) will direct them where to look. Citations can either be inserted in the text or in footnotes (depending on the type of assignment you are working on).
In your legal research and writing classes, and in practice in general, you are going to be required to follow a certain citation format for your work. Most law schools require you to cite using the Bluebook. The Bluebook can be a bit intimidating when you first use it, but once you get familiar with it, it is quite a handy tool.
Why should I worry about citations in my legal writing assignment?
Many students ask me over and over again why citations matter on a legal writing assignment. My answer is really in two parts:
First, you are likely getting graded on citations. If they are part of your grade, you do not want to give away points by making silly citation errors (ones that could have been easily avoided). Don’t let such errors pull your grade down.
Second, careless or missing citations look unprofessional. Remember, most legal writing assignments are graded blind by your professor. If your assignment is riddled with errors, it looks unprofessional and tells the professor that you didn’t take much care with this assignment. Do you think that is a good thing for your grade?
Some tips for making sure you cite correctly in your legal writing assignment.
Get organized! First, before you even start working on your legal writing assignment, you can make your Bluebook easier to use by putting tabs on commonly referenced rules. You will be so much more likely to check and double-check a rule if you don’t have to look up the page number every time you want a refresher on how to cite a case.
Set aside time to look up citations for the sources referenced in your assignment. Some students like to take an hour or so out of their writing to create a document where they list the correct citations (full and short) for the sources they will reference in their paper. Once done, just copy and paste from this list into your paper; this can, in the end, save you time (just don’t forget to insert pin cites if you need to).
Set aside time once you have completed a draft of your assignment to proofread just for citations and formatting. Many students are frantically proofreading an assignment down to the last moment and then end up ignoring the citations as part of their proofreading. Because of this, I think it is wise to do a proof of the assignment just to check citations and formatting. It won’t take that long, but you may catch mistakes that can cost you points.
Keeping these tips in mind will help you do your best on your legal research and writing assignment.
Looking for more legal writing tips? Check out these posts:
- Five Tips for a Great Legal Writing Assignment.
- Pay Attention in Class, It Can Save You Time.
- How to Pick a Law School Note Topic.
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