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Source Collection Triage Guide: Secret Decoder Ring

Don't Worry!

We're here to help, and we have lots of experience decoding these citations! So take at least one try through your "problem list" using the tips below. And if that doesn't help, contact a Reference Librarian! (Psst - look under "Ask Us" at the far right of this page.)

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Is it a book, a chapter in a book, or an article, and what should I search for?

Titles of books or book-like items (like an entire volume of a periodical) are usually printed in Large and Small Capitals; titles of articles and article-like items (like an individual chapter within a book) are usually printed in italics. See Book/Article Examples for the clues to look for in a citation.

I know what case citations usually look like, but what is this reporter I've never heard of?

If you see a "v." caption (like "R v. Lockwood") or a procedural caption ("In re ...") and there is a volume number and page, but the reporter abbreviation is something you don't recognize, you are probably right that this is a case, but the citation may be to something exotic. See Unusual Case Sources for examples, and the clues to look for in such citations.

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The text, footnote and/or citation itself refers to a statute, law or act, but it doesn't look like a normal code citation - what is this?

The citation may be to a session laws compilation - the annual, chronologically arranged list of all public legislation passed in a given year. Federal session laws are cited to Stat. (United States Statutes at Large) and/or Pub. L. (Public Law) number; state session laws are cited usually starting with the year followed by a publication name that often includes the words Laws, Legis. Serv., Sess. Laws, or Stat. There may be a parenthetical giving a corresponding code citation; collect both sources if possible.

How do I tell is something is legislative material that I can find in ProQuest Congressional?

Federal congressional materials can be easily recognized because the citations usually include a congressional session (e.g., 104th Cong.), and may contain chamber indicators (S. for Senate and H.R. for House). Citations for state legislative materials (like state session laws) vary widely, but often include the word Leg. and/or Sess. (referring to the legislative year or session involved). Those are the clues to look for in a citation to recognize it as a federal or state legislative document.


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For even more details and examples of citations, see the corresponding rules and tables in the Bluebook. The Cheatsheet lists the relevant rules and tables that may help you decode each of the above types of materials.