Write early and backup often!

When it comes to writing up your dissertation, remember certain precepts: write early and backup often.

You need to plan to give yourself time to draft, redraft, redraft, redraft, redraft, etc  papers.  There are no good writers, only good rewriters according to Tredinnick (2008: 10). One of the most common problems students encounter when writing or trying to write their dissertation is that they are reluctant to start writing. Often people may feel that their early drafts are unsatisfactory in all sorts of ways. And the truth is of course they are unsatisfactory but that is why it is important to start the process of writing early. The earlier you start writing the more time you have to redraft, edit and polish the written work.

There is another reason though to write early: the writing will help you with your thinking. As you write down your thoughts it will become more clear to you just what you have to say and what more work you need to do, to make the work more comprehensive, more precise, more thoughtful. Do not make the mistake of thinking that there is only one right way to address your problem (Becker 2010) – there may be several different ways of addressing it. If you wait until you figure out the one right way, or even worse the perfect way, you will never write.

Writing early also means that you can write and edit often. This does not necessarily mean having numerous long sessions of uninterrupted writing. Hopefully you will have such periods but if you start early you can also take advantage of short periods of time to polish different paragraphs, check spelling and grammar or review citation practice.

Also make sure to back up your work often. Universities tend not to regard technical problems as a legitimate excuse for non-completion or late completion of work. These problems are notoriously common and so you are expected to plan for them. It is not an excuse that your file was corrupted or your laptop stolen.

You may want to do this by making use of cloud storage (eg Dropbox, Google Drive) and your university likely provides you with free cloud storage (eg OneDrive). University-provided cloud storage is probably the most effective. Check just how secure and safe this is. A cloud based system should sync files on your laptop or desktop and the cloud so that there is a backup in the cloud. So if your laptop or desktop is stolen or destroyed there is a backup; this also means if you are temporarily separated from your main computer you can still access your files and work on them.

Universities do not necessarily back up everything on their cloud storage so make sure you know where your copies are, how many you have and when they are backed up.

You could also make use of external hard drives or USB sticks but these are liable to be damaged or lost. And if you have sensitive data on them the loss can be very serious.

As you make your backups you might want to save new versions of your paper. You might want to label them version 1, version 2 etc or give them dates to indicate which version they are. Avoid the temptation to delete earlier work; you may decide after a few versions that you had some useful material in an earlier draft.

Reflect consciously on where you are saving your work. It is too easy to save a document in the wrong folder (this is a particular problem with Macbooks). If you inadvertently save the paper in a shared folder online that is very embarrassing and potentially a data breach. But even where the paper is not shared it is troublesome if you cannot remember which folder holds your paper. Even more troublesome is if you save the paper inadvertently in some temporary folder and the paper is subsequently inaccessible. This can happen very easily if you, for instance, open a  paper from an email attachment and work on it without saving it to a folder.


Consider your structure carefully. Your purpose (/research question/ argument) will likely determine your structure.

A dissertation will normally be structured around chapters (or maybe sections), including introductory and concluding chapters. Within chapters, headings and even sub-headings may be used. In addition to the chapters there will usually be a title page, an abstract page, an acknowledgements page, a table of contents, a table of abbreviations before the main chapters. After the main chapters there will usually be a  bibliography detailing primary and secondary sources and possibly appendices. 

Your University will normally prescribe certain details about the content and ordering of the dissertation as well as more formal details about margins font type and style, etc. If there are no University guidelines as to formatting, then see if you can get ahold of a copy of a good quality dissertation example to see how it is laid out.

Your chapters need to be logically structured and so must any section headings within them. A dissertation will usually have an introduction and conclusion; in between there will be chapters that set out certain basic steps and then chapters that are more substantive and analytical in nature. So the introductory chapters might cover matters like theory, methods, a literature review, legal standards. Subsequent chapters will go on to apply the theory, methods, literature, legal standards to particular issues. Different institutions may have different requirements in this regards: some might specify that a dissertation has to have a separate literature review or methods chapters; other might accept that a literature review can be  integrated throughout a thesis, and that the methods can be discussed in the introduction. For a PhD of 80-100,000 words it is much more likely there will be separate chapters covering theory, methods, literature review. 

Within the chapters of a 10-20,000 word dissertation you are likely to need some section headings, to help the reader navigate through it. The aim is to help the reader so try and think about the key points you want to make in the chapter and use those to structure the section headings.

Microsoft Word has a very powerful tool in its style function. This enables you to use different heading styles automatically for different chapter and section headings. The ‘View… Outline’ command then enables you to see the overall structure of your thesis. You can collapse different levels and so choose to see only the most important or all the headings.  You can check easily for consistency in headings. Using this function also makes it straightforward to create (and automatically update) a table of contents.


Use signposting to help the reader understand how the chapters, sections, paragraphs are linked. Thus the beginning of a chapter might want to refer back to the previous chapter and the overall argument; the end of a chapter might want to allude to the next stage of the argument. Similarly check each paragraph: Does it link to the next paragraph?

Introductions and conclusions

It is an old piece of advice, but it remains true: devote extra attention to your introduction and your conclusion. As these create the first and the last impressions on the reader it is important that they be well crafted. If a reader is confused about your argument, they may try to re-read the introduction or skip ahead to the conclusion to understand the dissertation. A strong (or weak) conclusion can determine the result of what has hitherto been a borderline dissertation.

Your introduction should entice the reader if possible, but should more prosaically give some background, provide a road map of the dissertation, and indicate the purpose of the thesis. Avoid generic language in the introduction  – students frequently write something along the lines ‘Having presented different possible solutions to this problem, I will examine the arguments for these solutions and then examine the arguments against them before coming to a conclusion’. You are expected to examine different arguments for and against and you are certainly expected to come to a conclusion. Rather than provide a meaningless placeholder and keeping us in suspense, tell us the nature of your argument, even your conclusion.  A dissertation is not a mystery novel (Becker 2010)!  It is often useful to indicate what your argument or conclusion will be in the introduction. This may seem counter-intuitive if the introduction is the first part of the thesis, but although it is the first part of the thesis the marker will read, in reality the introduction will often be the last element of a dissertation that you write, or certainly that you finalise.

It is also worth spending extra time on your conclusion. It is sometimes difficult to write a conclusion; especially if you have concluded your argument or answered your research question in the last substantive chapter before the conclusion. A conclusion should not just be a summary of all that has gone before; nor should it include significant new information. The best advice I have seen here is that the conclusion should ‘thoughtfully’ bring the dissertation to an end. You might use it to refer back to your research questions and highlight how you have answered them. You can also use it to emphasise the key ‘takeaways’ from the thesis – what one, or two or three points do you want to reader to take away having read the thesis?

As with all the guidance here, a reminder to check your university documentation to see if there is specific guidance as to expectations. This may detail matters like placement and format of title page, anti-plagiarism declaration, abstract, acknowledgements, table of contents, content of thesis, bibliography, appendices, etc.


Titles are often notoriously bad. Avoid titles that are pretentious and confusing; and also avoid ones that are too generic. Your title should tell us something meaningful about the content of the thesis or the chapter or the section. 

Check that your thesis  (or chapter or section) reflects your title and vice versa. It often happens that a student sets out a title but when it comes to writing a chapter or section or even the thesis the written material deviates from the title. This is perfectly reasonable. But if you do this then you must review critically the title to make sure  it is consistent with what you have written.


Style is a very individual matter, and people may reasonably differ over what is an appropriate writing style for an academic dissertation. Some people find it helpful to take a journal article that they find insightful and powerfully written, and sit down and think why they find it insightful. What characteristics about the article make it worthwhile? Then try and develop those characteristics in your own writing.

Clear, concise and comprehensible

Try to keep your writing style clear. You should try to make everything transparent to the reader. If your meaning is unclear then this may well indicate that your thinking on the subject is unclear.

Keep your language concise: avoid unnecessary words or phrases. Consider carefully whether every chapter, section, paragraph, sentence and word is necessary to convey your meaning. If not, then delete it. Consider:  is ‘the ECHR does explicitly recognise’ any different from ‘the ECHR explicitly recognises.’

Avoid wordiness, verbiage, trying to look too smart. I have occasionally read essays in which in the course of a paragraph, a judge ‘opines’, ‘pronounces’, ‘declares’ – sometimes judges might just ‘say’ something.

Avoid confusion of any sort. If you confuse your reader, then they have to pause and work out your meaning. Normally you should make this clear for your reader. Confusion can creep in because of oddities of the English language. For instance the word ‘since’ can mean two different things while the word ‘sanction’ is worse: it can mean effectively opposite things! Non-native speakers have to be careful of false friends like ‘order public / public order’, ‘sentencia (or sentenza) / sentence’. Be wary of where you place modifiers in a sentence and how you use prepositions. This is also why you should avoid inconsistencies (see later).

Why are prepositions sometimes misleading? Look at the last sentence in the previous paragraph: what does ‘This’ refer to? Would you understand it as referring to the need to avoid confusion? So that sentence should be rewritten: ‘The need to avoid confusion is also why you should avoid inconsistencies (see later).’


Just as the chapters and section headings must be logically structured, so must the paragraphs. Each paragraph should develop a distinct idea – use a new paragraph for a new idea. You might find it helpful to see if there is a topic sentence in your paragraph; and if there is not make sure to include one. The topic sentence indicates the key point of the paragraph; the rest of the paragraph may develop it, give examples of it, evidence for it.

Your paragraphs should follow logically. If you are finding it difficult to see the logic of your paragraphs try underlining the key word or sentence, or writing the key point beside the paragraph. See then if the order of the paragraphs makes sense.

Having very long paragraphs can be a problem for the reader; if a paragraph is a page long it can seem daunting and it may be difficult to identify the main point. Similarly having very short paragraphs in academic writing is off-putting; it may suggest the writer has not really developed any point or argument in the paragraph. Having all paragraphs the same (medium?) length though might be monotonous!  Instead, try to mix different types of paragraphs (Tredinnick 2008), avoiding having too many short paragraphs or too many long paragraphs. This advice also goes for sentence length.

Active and Passive Voice

Only use the passive voice where there is a good reason to do so. Indicate the subject of your sentence-  this is usually clearer, more concise, more specific and more forceful. Compare  ‘Not every payment made by the state to an individual will be regarded as a social security matter in the Strasbourg Court’. ‘The Strasbourg does not regard every payment made by the State to an individual as a social security matter’.

The passive voice can obscure who is responsible for an action. ‘The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act was declared incompatible with Convention rights in 2004’ is grammatical but the use of the passive voice makes it too easy to avoid the subject.  ‘The House of Lords declared the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act incompatible with Convention rights’ is shorter and makes clear who was responsible.

Sometimes you will need or want to use the passive voice for a good reason. The subject of the sentence may be unknown, or you may want to draw attention to the object of the sentence.

Verbs and nouns

Writers on style will often identify verbs and nouns as the most important elements of English (Tredinnick 2008, Moran 2019). Try therefore to develop your repository of verbs and nouns.

In particular be careful about using excessive adjectives and adverbs. Try to state what you want to say using nouns and verbs more creatively rather than padding out your prose with adjectives and adverbs.

In particular be very careful about turning verbs into abstract nouns. This is called nominalisations and usually results in longer, unclear sentences. Academics often employ abstract nouns and nominalisations, and it can be excessive. ‘The Strasbourg Court then proceeded to conduct a careful examination of the multiple facts in the case’ could be written as ‘The Strasbourg Court then examined the facts in the case’.


Try to avoid using quotes unless it is necessary. Quotes are really only necessary in two situations.

  • First if you need to analyse the words closely – this might well be because you are construing a statutory provision or critiquing a court judgment.
  • Second it may be that an author (or a judge) has expressed something so powerfully and relevantly for your argument that it is helpful to include the quote.

So unless you have a good specific reason to quote you are better off not doing so. Even if you do quote you normally need to explain the significance of that quote in your own words. And if you can do that do you really need the quote? Wouldn’t a reference suffice?

A dissertation or any piece of academic work with lots of quotes is likely to be marked down for that reason. Quoting shows that you can use the copy/paste function on a word processor and maybe shows you can recognise something is relevant. Excessive quotation is likely to use up your word count and won’t get you any marks.

When you do quote make sure to quote properly and give a pinpoint reference. Use quote marks consistently. Sometimes students mix single quotes and double quotes; or they use one for quotes and one for other purposes (scare quotes say or references). Use one form as your default and then use the other for internal quotes (ie a quote within a quote). OSCOLA prefers single quote marks as the default and double quote marks for internal quotes.

For longer quotes (more than three lines) indent the quote and do not use quote marks at the beginning or end. Bearing in mind the risk of inadvertent plagiarism ensure that the quotes are indented properly and clearly. You can introduce an indented quote with a colon.

Common errors

Try to avoid minor but common errors. While these points may seem very small (and they are), getting them wrong conveys an impression to the reader that you are careless, or rushed, or unfamiliar with professional expectations in writing.

One of the most important errors is inconsistency of any kind. There are many ways to cite a source, refer to a journal title, abbreviate the names of institutions, construct lists and so on. There is no one right way to do any of these (unless a style has been prescribed for you) but it is vitally important that you be consistent in how you write these small points. A reader (marker) may not have a strong preference as to whether you write ‘Harvard Law Review’ ‘HLR’ ‘Harvard LR’ or ‘Harvard L Review’. But they will notice and find it distracting if you use all of these!

Random or unnecessary capitalisation is another common error. Students sometimes tend to capitalise ‘important’ words. Avoid this tendency – keep capitals for names and for the start of sentences.

The misuse of apostrophes is another common problem. You can use apostrophes for contractions or for possession. Generally you should avoid contractions in academic writing so there may not be much occasion to use apostrophes for that purpose. For possession you should use ‘’s’ when the subject is singular and ‘s’’ for plural. So ‘The sole dissenter’s opinion is better reasoned than the majority judges’ opinion’.  You do not use an apostrophe for the possessive use of ‘its’ but you do use it for the contraction ‘it is’ – this becomes ‘it’s’. When the subject ends in an ‘s’ it may be possible to add an apostrophe after it (even if it is singular) or in some cases add an ‘’s’.

Random changes in tense can also be irksome for readers, especially if they occur in mid-sentence or even in mid-paragraph.  This is sometimes tricky in legal and more generally academic writing. You will be writing about what a judge said in a 1971 judgment and about what an academic wrote in a 1979 article. It may seem obvious to write in the past tense, but at the same time some of those principles and arguments may still seem valid today.

A similar form of inconsistency is where you ignore agreement in terms of singular/plural subjects.

Meaningless modifiers are usually short phrases, or even just a word, which seem to qualify something else, but – as you might have guessed – really do no meaningful work. They are really irritating, totally unnecessary, somewhat lazy and a bit distracting. Or: They are irritating, unnecessary, lazy and distracting. Sometimes we do need to use a qualification to modify a claim, especially in academic writing where we are anxious to be precise and justify every claim, but delete those that do no work.

Under no circumstance use a cliché in formal academic writing. If you find one has slipped in, then delete it and write what you want to say more directly. Becker goes further and advises against all tired metaphors (Becker 2010).

Finally avoid monotony. Having exactly the same sentence structure sentence after sentence, with the same subjects and verbs may bore the reader so don’t be afraid to mix things up and even  – with care -break some rules.

More technical details

Abbreviations/acronyms. Write out abbreviations and acronyms out in full the first time you use them and then put the abbreviation/acronym in brackets afterwards. Later you can just use the acronym/abbreviation. There is no need to write ‘hereinafter’ or similar phrases or to use quote marks, just putting it in brackets indicates this is the form that will be used after. Avoid inventing unusual abbreviations of your own that defy accepted conventions (eg by convention we do not abbreviate ‘Lord’ to ‘L’ when discussing the Law Lords.)

Footnote references: Normally put footnote references at the end of a sentence outside of punctuation unless this will cause confusion. Some guides suggest it is also acceptable to put them inside punctuation provided you are consistent.

‘OSOCLA is a parsimonious stye and avoids using full stops in abbreviations even eg and ie.

Ibid’ refers to the immediately preceding footnote reference. It should only be used if the citation is in the immediately preceding sentence.  

Use of ‘I’

This is one of the most contentious issues in academic writing. Many academics have been taught not to write using the first person singular and they pass that advice on to new generations of students.

It is pretentious to write about oneself in the plural: if there is only a sole author, there is no need to write ‘We argue’. Sometimes the effort to avoid writing ‘I’ leads to pretension: ‘the author thinks’ or even worse the ‘present author thinks’.  This is not just pretentious, it is wordy.

Do be careful about conveying too subjective an impression: ‘in my opinion’, ‘I feel’, ‘I believe’ are not usually appropriate. Give the reasons and the evidence instead. After all – other people may have different opinions, feelings and beliefs! Having said that, some academics might want to insist on the personal and subjective. This might be appropriate when discussing ethnographic research or if you are making a point about positionality or the personal nature of academic work and the choices we make.

But as long as you avoid pretension, wordiness or inappropriately subjective tone, it is fine to use ‘I’ – any number of experienced academics use it!

Proofreading and Editing

When proofreading, you may want to proofread in stages (Goldstein and Lieberman 2002), ie proofread once to check the overall flow of the narrative; proofread a second time to check how paragraphs link together; proofread a third time to pick up on spelling and grammar; proofread a fourth time to check citations.

You need a certain distance from your work in order to proofread it properly. This is a strong reason to start your dissertation early – this means you can give yourself a few days or a week or so between finishing an advanced draft and then proofreading it carefully.

Try reading out aloud your text  -you will be surprised how many errors and infelicities you detect that are too easy to miss when reading a screen. You may also find it useful to swap your dissertation with a colleague’s and to red-pen each other’s work. Or you may be able to ask a friend or family member to read the dissertation.

Many people when proofreading find it useful to work off a hard copy rather than the computer screen. So if you have spent 100 hours in front of the computer screen now may be a good time to print a hard copy and read through it – take it to a park or a café and sit down and just read it.

Writing aids

There are no technologies which can substitute for developing your own writing style and skill in picking up on spelling and grammatical mistakes. There are however technologies that can help with picking up on such mistakes and even help with matters of style.

Your word processor will usually have its own spelling and grammar checker system and you should of course use this. It will catch some obvious mistakes; when using it be careful to check every suggested correction as spell and grammar checkers cannot be 100 % accurate.

In addition you might want to use other software that picks up on more grammatical problems or even problems of style. Software such as Grammarly, Pro Writing Aid and Hemingway  will help identify errors or if not errors, features of your writing you may want to amend.  Hemingway for instance identifies long complex sentences, use of the passive voice, excessive use of adverbs and the like.


Plagiarism refers to passing off someone else’s work  – their words or their ideas or their information – as your own. Deliberate plagiarism is a form of academic malpractice (cheating), though some examples of plagiarism may also be bad academic practice.

The penalties for plagiarism can be severe and may seriously hurt your professional career.  University staff can usually recognise plagiarised material quite easily and in any event, universities have access to computer software (eg Turnitin) that can automatically check submitted work to see if it is similar to material found on the internet or in repositories of students’ essays. 

Different universities will define plagiarism slightly differently. In some instances the difference between plagiarism (academic malpractice) and bad academic practice is unclear.  However you should strive to avoid all bad academic practice anyway!

In some cases plagiarism be egregious: if you pay someone to write an essay for you then this is a serious breach of academic honesty. It is also likely to be ineffective  – essay mills often produce shoddy work. Similarly copying another student’s work is plagiarism.

The classic example of plagiarism consists in copying someone’s words. If you use someone’s words, then you must use quote marks (to indicate it is direct speech) and a reference (to indicate correct attribution). It is a common experience to find in students essays that they have a sentence or a paragraph that is someone else’s work and then a footnote at the end but no quote marks. Often in this scenario the student will say there is a reference and so there cannot be plagiarism, but this is not an adequate excuse. Without quote marks there is no way for the reader to know that the student realises the passage is a direct quote.

Remember plagiarism (or bad academic practice) can include more than just passing off someone else’s words as your own. It can include any instance where you do not give credit to someone else for their information, ideas and words. It can include paraphrasing others if you do not give an appropriate reference.  So to be clear: if you take down someone’s words and then reproduce them, changing a few words here and there, this is still plagiarism. Arguably it is an aggravated form of plagiarism – the fact a student change a few words suggests the student knows it is dishonest.

One form of plagiarism is where you lift footnotes or references from a source and pass them off as if you have read them yourself. This is very tempting to do but is misleading and may lead to trouble. It gives the impression that you have read those sources yourself, but in this scenario you have not. If you have read the source yourself then you can cite it normally but if not, then you must indicate clearly that you are relying on some other source.

It is also possible to be found to have plagiarised where you rely on your own previous submitted work (auto-plagiarism).

Be careful of excessive collaboration. Many schools will encourage students to collaborate and share ideas and information but if you collaborate excessively on assessments intended as individual assignments.

There are useful on-line tutorials on plagiarism for students. See, for example:  https://library.acadiau.ca/research/tutorials/you-quote-it-you-note-it-2.html

Plagiarism  may happen inadvertently. It frequently happens that students either misunderstand what constitutes plagiarism, or that they have been careless when note-taking.

The key to avoiding plagiarism or bad academic practice is to get into good habits when it comes to writing, note-taking and referencing.

Write in your own words as much as possible when writing your own essays.  Avoid the temptation to paraphrase material. Paraphrase is where you start with an author’s own words and then change a few of them, often changing the words only slightly. Some markers might regard this as a serious form of plagiarism as it looks as if you are trying to avoid being caught.  Be very careful when ‘summarising’ what others have said. Is what you have written recognisably yours, or someone else’s?

Keep good notes when note-taking. So when taking notes from a book, try to write your summary in your own words. If you do take down someone else’s words make sure it will be recognisable as such even months later (ie use quote marks). Writing in your own words is not just a matter of avoiding plagiarism: you are much more likely to understand the material if you write in your own words and you are also more likely to remember the key points.

Finally, always use quote marks for direct speech and include a full pinpoint reference. Which takes us to referencing.


There are many different citation styles which differ according to discipline, country, even journal! Use a recognised citation style and use it consistently.

Do not try to invent your own citation system. There are numerous citation systems available  – use a recognised one. If directed by your School to use a specific style (eg OSCOLA, Harvard) then use it correctly.

Whenever you offer information, or a quote, or an idea that is not your own then you need to provide a reference for it. You do not need to provide a reference for what is considered common knowledge eg that Tony Blair became UK Prime Minister in 1997 or that the European Court of Human Rights sits in Strasbourg, France. Cite any source that you use. Avoid vague references to authors. Do not say ‘Someone says’, ‘academics think’ ‘It is thought’, etc. If it is necessary to indicate who is the author, then make it clear in the text. So write (eg) ‘Chalmers and Anderson argue that …(fnref)’.

Citations must be full and they must be precise. By full that means the reader needs to know:

Book: author, title, year of publication and the publisher

Article: author, title, year of publication, name of journal, volume of journal, page reference within journal

Case: name, Neutral Citation, year, volume, law report, page within the report.

Pinpoint referencing

By precise I mean that if you refer to a source in your text, give the exact page or paragraph where the author or judge or whatever says what you claim s/he says. Always think of the reader – is it possible for the reader to doubt this claim? Then give him/her the precise page or paragraph where he/she can find support for the claim.  This is called pinpoint referencing.

Where someone does not provide a full or precise citation, the marker may assume that s/he has not really read that source, but is just taking it from somewhere else.


There is no official citation system for legal sources in the UK and Ireland, but the OSCOLA systems is increasingly used by law schools in these jurisdictions: http://www.law.ox.ac.uk/publications/oscola.php 

OSCOLA produces very detailed guidance on a large number of sources and there is a special edition of OSCOLA for international law sources.

For coursework there is no need to memorise all these different styles; you should keep the style guides open beside you when writing your paper. There is a great one page summary which you should keep to hand when writing.

While you do not need to memorise all these styles it is worthwhile learning the most common ones. So do spend a bit of time learning how to cite books, journal articles, cases, statutes. If these are the bulk of your references, then you will quickly get into the habit of citing them correctly. From  a marker’s perspective it will look as if the majority of your references are correct, and they may overlook or forgive minor deviations on some lesser used reference types (or they may not know the correct citation style for a lesser used one themselves!)

Students often fixate on how to cite rarer types of sources. The OSCOLA guides provide very detailed guidance but they might not include everything. In the event you have a source that is not addressed in OSCOLA you can either try to replicate the style for the most similar source that is in OSCOLA; or you could try to find a model reference in a journal article or on a reputable website. When you settle on how to cite the source make sure to be consistent afterwards.


When writing your paper you will often want to refer to the same source several times. If you are using footnotes and the source appears in the footnote immediately preceding the latest one you can use ‘ibid’. If however the source is spread throughout the paper, you may want to decide whether to cross-reference or use some other system.

One approach might be to give the full reference every time you cite it. This is consistent and thorough but can look repetitive and dense if you need to discuss the same source repeatedly in short order.

A second approach is to give the full reference for the first citation and thereafter a recognisable short form eg this might be the case name without the full citation, or it might be the author and title without the full details of the book or journal.

The third approach is to cross-reference. There are different guides to cross-referencing; the OSCOLA one is quite minimalist. But if you do decide to cross-reference make sure this is the last step you take and be prepared to check them rigorously. Changing even one footnote might change the entire cross-referencing system!


You will usually be expected to include a bibliography. Again each institution may have its own version of how this should be presented. A few matters to bear in mind.

Any bibliography should distinguish between primary and secondary sources.

As there are many different types of primary source you will probably need sub-sections for the primary sources. For example you may need to distinguish between eg ‘UK case law’, ‘Case law of the CJEU’ ‘Acts of the UK Parliament’ etc. Check that your bibliography section titles are accurate; it is surprisingly common for students to include international treaties and declarations under the heading of ‘statutes’ or ‘legislation’.

Your bibliography of secondary sources should normally be organised alphabetically by author surname.

Make sure you use the citation system precisely and consistently.

Some markers prefer that a bibliography should only include material you have explicitly referenced in your work. However this may differ depending on the academic culture or discipline. In some cultures or disciplines you may be expected to have a comprehensive bibliography that includes everything written on a topic.

Finally, good luck and enjoy!

Next: References