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A Short Guide to Citation of Authorities

© Anshuman Sahoo 2018. 
Free for mass distribution as long as the source is mentioned.

The quality and quantity of authorities cited to support a statement is one of the determining aspects that defines the reliability as well as the acceptability of a statement. Be it a memorial, a research paper, or an assignment article towards a law school grading, the importance of citing authorities remains undisputed.
Given the importance of citing authorities, this also remains a fact that citation of authorities has always been a confusing and misleading thing. Deciding where to cite, why to cite, and which ones to cite are often difficult decisions a law student has to face. With an endeavour to put an end to this, the current article deals with two basic questions: why do we cite authorities, and which ones are worth citing.
First, why do we cite authorities?
We cite authorities to support our claim about something, as authorities have the ability to strengthen or weaken a claim. Strictly analysed, authorities can be cited in any of the following three cases:
1.      Authority for assertion: While making a claim or statement, there’s nothing worse than making a baseless assertion. However, made the right way, assertions can be a powerful tool for your argument. Citing authorities is the magic tool you can use to make assertions the right way.
Whenever you make an assertion, always try to cite authorities. This will strengthen your claim, and your argument.
2.      Attribution to source: Plagiarism is a crime you would not want to commit while writing a research paper; but citing authorities can turn your plagiarism into well-researched support-pillars.
Cite sources whenever you quote, or refer (copy) something as it is. It’ll save you from the allegation of plagiarism while strengthening your research.
3.      Further reading: While writing a paper, there’ll be places where you would want to keep elaborating and writing on a single issue because it’s really interesting and deep. As tempting as this may sound, it must be avoided as it does injustice to other issues, thereby making your paper look handicapped.
This is where citations come to your rescue. Cite further reading and ‘See also’ materials to make sure that the interested reader can explore more if he wants without disturbing the flow of the paper.

Second, which ones to cite?
It is not uncommon to encounter dozens of materials on a single issue while you are on the hunt for authorities. The question there is, which are the ones worth citing?
While there are several ways to evaluate resources, I personally prefer the CARS checklist: it’s short, plus easy to remember!
The CARS checklist stands for four points that must be checked while evaluating a resource. The better the resource/authority scores on these four points, the better the authority. The CARS checklist expands as follows:
C: Credibility
A: Accuracy
R: Reasonableness
S: Support
That translates to the following statement:
‘The better credibility, accuracy, reasonableness, and support a resource possesses, the better it is as an authority.’
This is all.

As for ‘how to cite’, most CFPs (Call for Papers) will rule down the citation system to be followed while writing the paper. If not mentioned, keep in mind that there are two basic citation systems for writing papers related to law and legal studies: OSCOLA and Bluebook. My earlier post on citing using Bluebook may help you here.

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