Home > Legal Research, Social Media > Everybody Researches: What the heck is a §?

Everybody Researches: What the heck is a §?

In a previous blog post we looked at some of the more unusual words found in the legal research vocabulary.  In today’s post we will  focus upon some words that are commonly misspelled or misused, as well as a couple of symbols that are frequently encountered when conducting legal research.

A perennial problem in the realm of spelling is the word “judgment.”  Unless you plan on becoming a solicitor or barrister instead of an attorney, judgment should not be spelled with an “e” after the “g.”  To help you remember think “judgement is the English spelling. (Yes I know that they are the UK, but that just is not going to work as a mnemonic so be flexible).   Another word that causes spelling grief is “harass” and all its variations (harassed, harassment, etc.)   Those of you planning on a career in employment law, pay particular attention to this one.   While you should always try to do your best, do not feel TOO (not to or two) bad if an occasional mistake creeps in.  Comfort yourself with that fact that at least you are not a university that misspelled “university”……on its own website!

Some words can be spelled correctly but used incorrectly.  This type of word is particularly insidious because spell check will not detect it.   A “citation” can be a ticket or a method of referring to legal authority.   Want to make it more complicated?  What if you have a question about how to cite a site?  Make sure to proofread carefully and determine if you are referring to legal citation or a website.  For more commonly misspelled words in legal writing and some practice exercises, check out this page from the University of New England’s law school (Australia).

It is not just words that can cause confusion.  Certain symbols  frequently used in legal research are not common to most other types of research, or at least are not used in the same way.  One of the earliest “legal runes” that you encounter may be the section symbol §.  Resembling a double S, it is used to indicate  a section of a document, often a statute or code.  When two symbols are used [§§] it indicates multiple sections.

While it is not hard to remember S=section, locating the symbol may take a bit of searching. If you are lucky, it is available form the insert menu on your computer. If not, instructions are differ for Macs and PCs.  On a PC, holding the  “Alt” key and hitting “21” on the numeric keypad should make the symbol appear. When using a Mac is “Option+6” should work.  If you think that you will be using the symbol a lot,  the University of Washington’s Gallagher Law Library has some handy tips on how to create a shortcut on your computer instead of having to key in numbers every time you want the symbol.

The paragraph symbol  (¶) may only be familiar to some from edits on term papers or legal writing submissions, but it has been commonly used in legal publishing for years, usually in place of page numbers, in looseleaf services such as Commerce Clearing House (CCH).  (See Part (b) of Bluebook Rule 19.1 below), Also, as more and more legal materials become available in various formats and as many state courts have begun to require that cases be cited in a medium-neutral format   the paragraph symbol is becoming much more common (see Bluebook Rule 10.3.3 for more details on using the symbol).

As with the section symbol, The paragraph symbol is not  going to be located in exactly the same place on every computer but, for those using Word, it is likely to be found by going to “Insert” and selecting “symbols” from either the drop down menu or the picture icons.  If you do not see it in the first batch of symbols presented, check that you are viewing Latin symbols and not Greco-Roman.  If  you prefer, or need, to use the keyboard, type “Alt+20” if using a PC or “Option+7” for a Mac.

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