Legal citation signals

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Legal citation signals are a set of brief abbreviated phrases or words used to clarify the authority or significance of a legal citation as it relates to a proposition. Signals help a reader quickly discern meaning or usefulness of a particular reference when the reference itself does not provide adequate information.

Most citation signals are placed in front of the citation to which they apply. For example, in the paragraph

When writing a legal argument, it is important to refer to primary sources. To assist readers in locating these sources, it is desirable to use a standardized citation format. See generally Harvard Law Review Association, The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (18th ed. 2005). Note, however, that some courts may require any legal papers that are submitted to them to conform to a different citation format.

the signal is the phrase "see generally," which indicates that the citation "The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (18th ed. 2005)" provides general background information on the topic.

Parenthetical signal[edit]

The parenthetical signal provides additional information about the citation. Unlike the other signals, it follows immediately after the full citation. It usually is brief, about one sentence, and provides a quick explanation of how the citation either supports or is in disagreement with the proposition. For example: Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) (overruling Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896)).

List of common citation signals[edit]

Indicating support:

  • [no signal] is appropriate where the cited authority (i) directly states the proposition, (ii) identifies the source of a quotation, or (iii) identifies an authority referred to in the text.
  • E.g., means there is more legal authority supporting the same proposition as the original cited authority, but whose inclusion is repetitive, unhelpful, or unnecessary.
  • Accord usually is used to signify that some persuasive authority also supports the proposition of the quoted authority.
  • See means authority supports the proposition with which the citation is associated either implicitly or in the form of dicta.
  • See also signals support for a given proposition, but not as clearly as see.
  • Cf. is used when the cited authority supports a proposition different from the main proposition but sufficiently analogous to lend support. The citation's relevance will usually be clear to the reader only if it is explained in a parenthetical.
  • See generally means that a source provides useful background information. Usually used in the citation of secondary sources.

Indicating contradiction:

  • But see means that the original citation supports the proposition and that the following citation supports something else. There does not need to be a direct contradiction.
  • But cf. the following citation supports a contrary position by way of analogy.
  • Contra means that the following citation is in direct contradiction with the original source.

Suggesting a useful comparison:

  • Compare… with is a literal comparison between two or more sources. Like Cf., this signal is usually accompanied by parenthetical signals to clarify any contradiction.

References[edit]

See also[edit]