The ‘meaty’ part of your manuscript or essay, dissertation, thesis, the part that contains your writing, your words, is known in editing circles as the ‘running text’. Whilst the OSCOLA fourth edition guide does not set out any specific rules about font, line spacing or size, it does drop little hints here and there about punctuation, capitalisation and abbreviations. I have tried to gather all of these together here, plus a few general tips for academic writing.
Writing in OSCOLA style – punctuation
Although OSCOLA style uses minimal punctuation in the styling of the citations, the normal rules of English grammar should be observed. So, write good, clear academic English, properly punctuated and avoid contractions such as don’t and it’s, and any informal, colloquial or slang words. Refer to a good dictionary when necessary. The online version of the Oxford English Dictionary is a good choice, as is access to Fowler’s Modern English and the Oxford style guide Hart’s New Rules for any grammatical queries. You’ll find that the majority of UK editors and proofreaders will have all of these excellent guides in their library.
Legal writing tends to use a number of abbreviations and acronyms. For example, for organisations like the World Trade Organization (WTO), or the United Nations (UN), and for countries such as the United States (US). Abbreviations are also used for treaties and legislation, for example, the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM). In your writing, try to adopt the best practice of always quoting the name of the body in full the first time that it is used followed by the abbreviation in brackets. Then, the next time just use the abbreviation, unless it is the opening word of a sentence or a new chapter. Don’t put any punctuation between the abbreviation letters, so US not U.S.
Similarly, the abbreviations ‘eg’, ‘etc’ and ie’ are also used without punctuation, which takes a little getting used to. It is also best practice to follow the Oxford rule to avoid concluding a list beginning with the words such as, for example, or for instance with etc or etcetera. Just finish the list with the last factual point.
Date formatting is plain, and follows the order day/month/year: 1 April 2017. There is no abbreviation of second, third, fourth used, so the following layouts are incorrect: 1st April 2017; April 1st 2017; first April 2017; first of April 2017, the first of April 2017.
There is no specific advice in OSCOLA about writing numbers in the running text. I usually adopt the normal practice for using numbers in non-scientific running text of writing in words for numbers up to and including ten, and then using numerals from 11 onwards.
Highlighting words and phrases
It is good practice to be sparing with the use of scare or highlighting quotes. These are the quote marks put around words to ‘highlight’ them. If you decide that a word needs emphasis then use single quote marks the first time it is used. However, there’s no need to use them for subsequent repetitions of the word or phrase. Note that this relates to your own words, not quotations that you are citing. We’ll look at quotations in the next article.
Italics should not be used to highlight text. Only use the italic font for case names and for foreign words, including the less common Latin terms, that are not in the general British English vocabulary.
Citing cases and legislation in the text
When writing about the law inevitably you will need to refer to a specific case or piece of legislation at some point. When writing about a case, just refer to the case name using the last names only of both the plaintiff and the defendant, with a small lower case v for versus. The v has no full stop and do not quote the date in the main text. For example, Donoghue v Stevenson or if it is a criminal case R v Jones. The full citation details go in the footnotes, although it’s not necessary to repeat the case name. If you mention the case again then use a short name if the case has one, such as ‘in the case of Jones …’. You can also use popular names of cases such as The Wagon Mound or the MacLibel case.
Here’s a quick reminder of the main style and punctuation issues to watch out for in the general text of your writing:
• Place the punctuation inside the footnote marker
• Don’t use full stops between abbreviations or eg, etc and ie
• Italic in the text is used for case names and foreign words only
• Be sparing with use of ‘quote’ marks for highlighting or emphasising words
• OSCOLA date format is day–month–year eg 1 April 2017