1. In legal citations, why do people put "see", "see also", "e.g.", etc., in italics?

    Please don't just say, "because that's the custom." I'd like to know just enough about the evolution of this custom to develop some intuition regarding when one should italicize the little introductory words.

  2. Does it make any difference whether I'm inside or outside a pair of parentheses?

  3. Within my document, when I'm referring the reader to a page of something normal, may I continue to use "see", "but see", etc., without italics?


(a) My document is a petition to a review officer, who will know that I am a pro se parent, so it won't be hugely embarrassing if I don't get this stuff exactly right.

(b) I tried half a dozen guides to legal citations, and chose https://law.resource.org/pub/us/code/blue/IndigoBook.pdf. If there's something you think I will like better, please feel free to make a different suggestion.

(c) Yes, I know about Law SE. If necessary I will ask over there... but I wanted to try here first, because I think you guys would probably be better able to help me get some intuition about it.



The review officer's decision in this case, which the Second Circuit reaffirmed, reveals that the student coped successfully with her bipolar disorder and ADHD without the use of specialized instruction: quotes (see name-of-case).

But as legal scholars have observed, bla-bla-bla (see name-of-article).

Did I do that right? I italicized "see" in the first sentence, which cites a legal decision, but not in the second sentence, which cites a peer-reviewed journal article.

  • 1
    Can you please provide some examples (either by quoting or, preferably, by links) of the context you are asking about. And are you asking about UK, US or another area's practise?
    – TrevorD
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 18:50
  • @TrevorD - U.S. It matters? // example coming soon. Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 18:52
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    Customs and practices differ, especially legal practices. I wouldn't purport to comment on US legal practice, whereas I might on UK practice. Also, it's not clear to me whether you mean the actual words "see", etc. are in italics, or just the citation details.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 18:56
  • @TrevorD - Go for it. If the US is different, hopefully someone else will chime in. // My question is about the word "see". Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 19:04
  • Thanks for the extra details. I'm afraid I have no idea why "see" is italicised in one place and not the other (unless one instance is a mistake). But Mick's answer seems to make sense: it's merely convention in order to draw attention to it.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 19:16

2 Answers 2


If you read through the document that you have linked to (The Indigo Book), you will see (in section R4.1) that these terms are signals that introduce citation clauses and sentences. Section R2.1 specifies that signals should be italicised, presumably to draw the reader's attention to them. It goes on to say that, when these documents were created using typewriters, signals were underlined, since no other form of highlighting was universally available.

  • I do understand the relationship between italics and underlining. (I learned to type on a manual typewriter.) But why? And what about question 2? Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 19:16
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    Why? Presumably, since they are called signals, to attract the readers attention, indicate that they are not part of the citation, and to help the reader navigate what can be dense (and hard to parse) text. However, since I am not a lawyer, this is pure speculation on my part. As for question 2, I don't see why citations in parentheses should be treated any differently.
    – Mick
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 19:40
  • Thanks for trying. But I don't get it. Putting the signal in italics makes it blend in with the name-of-case, which has to go in italics. Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 19:42

Before looking at any questions of language can we acknowledge that it’s a very brave person who represents himself in court, the more so if that person is a pro se parent, because that suggests the case might be enormously important emotionally about child custody, or financially about divorce or maintenance or some such. Such being the case, I know no angels who would not fear to tread on ground paved with questions about the italicisation of legal citations, even armed with excellent insurance policies.

Ignoring the simple fact that any jot or tittle in any legal document could make the difference between riches and bankruptcy, lawyers put "see", "see also", "e.g.", etc, in italics simply to separate them from the main text. Whether being in- or outside parentheses makes a difference depends on the context and might change according to a single comma or any other punctuation mark, which is why in the UK, anyway, jurists despise commas and most other punctuation.

Are you really brave enough to gamble your case on advice given by anyone here - including me, for sure - about how to refer the reader to a page of something normal, using "see", "but see", etc., without italics?

Even on specific, qualified advice to the contrary, a petition to any kind of court officer might very well be hugely embarrassing if you don't get this stuff exactly right. It might lose the case for you.

Law SE would very obviously be a better reference. Translating ‘legalese’ into ordinary English is nearly as dangerous as translating it into a wholly foreign language. Would you write your petition in French and trust Google to translate it?

In your example where ‘The review officer's decision in this case, which the Second Circuit reaffirmed, reveals that the student coped successfully with her bipolar disorder and ADHD without the use of specialized instruction: quotes (see name-of-case)’ it seems crystal clear that ‘see name-of-case’ takes italics because it serves almost as an aside, or foot-note. Although it’s mentioned in the main text, it is not part of the main text. Depending on house style, either the parentheses or the italics are unnecessary.

In any case, what exactly does the word 'quotes' contribute there?

In your example where ‘… legal scholars have observed, bla-bla-bla (see name-of-article) the only difference should be in style, not any kind of meaning. Almost certainly, there is no more difference between the citation of a legal decision and a peer-reviewed journal article, than between articles published in hard- or paperback. If there was, how would you distinguish between a legal decision directly given in court and a review of that decision in any recognised expert legal journal? How would you distinguish, in the same journal, between peer-reviewed work and pure speculation, expert or not?

  • The word 'quotes' is a placeholder. In my actual document, I inserted text from the decision in that spot. I didn't want to overwhelm the ELU reader, so I decided to put a dummy word in place of the cited text. Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 2:52
  • I didn't understand the last part at all. // You seriously think that getting the italics wrong could make a judge flip-flop on a decision? And I thought I was a bit obsessive about my editing and formatting! Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 2:56
  • Thanks aparente001. I hoped to highlight both the danger of rushing in and the risk of distraction. At least one law in England uses hardly more words than this paragraph to explain its sole purpose, which is to replace the single word 'the' with 'a' in another law, 10 years older. The difference it makes is whether or not you go to gaol. Italics prolly don’t have that power and you prolly wouldn’t dream of swapping your chestnut horse for my horse chestnut but more to the point, consider the power the puny little comma has over what the panda does in Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 12:33
  • I see. Well, going pro se to my son's special education impartial hearing, which lasted ten days, writing the closing argument, and writing a 40-page petition of appeal, have already made me well aware of my lack of legal training. Please don't rub it in! Could you do me a favor and edit out the parts of your answer that are designed to highlight the dangers that you explained in your comment? The part of your answer that was helpful for me was 'lawyers put "see", "see also", "e.g.", etc, in italics simply to separate them from the main text.' Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 16:36
  • Uh… hey, I wish you all the luck in the world with your son's special education impartial hearing, which I'm quite sure in my country would not have lasted ten hours and would certainly have been more likely to get ten minutes that ten days! Happy New Year! Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 23:39

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