Why supra is awesome
Academic papers often use supra and infra to refer to materials found elsewhere. Supra refers to materials cited earlier when an id. or short cite are not appropriate. Infra refers to materials coming later in the paper. An example is below.
Why supra is a pain
The use of supra is helpful for the reader, because it tells the reader where the full citation may be found. (Note that supra is good for books and law review articles, but cannot be used for case names.) But supras are a pain during the writing process because the introduction of a new footnote prior to footnote 1 will make the supra point to the wrong footnote. See how note 5 is now incorrect?
Commonly used (but tedious) solutions
Some authors deal with this in early drafts by using full cites for every footnote, and then fixing the supras at the end. But that seems like a lot of work. First, the author has to keep repeating the full cite. Second, all of those full cites (except the first one) will later have to be changed to supras. Yuck.
Other authors leave the supra footnote reference blank, as shown below for footnote 5. The author will later fix things while polishing the final draft. But that’s also extra work, because towards the end of your editing, you’ll have to change all the blank spaces to the correct footnote number. And if after fixing all those supras, you realize you have to add a footnote in the middle, you’ll have to fix the supra numbering yet again. Double yuck.
A better solution: let Word do the work for you
Most authors don’t know that you can do it once, at the beginning, and let Microsoft Word update your supra numbering for you. Here’s what you do:
1. Put the cursor in the proper place in the target footnote (here, note 5) that needs a supra back to the original footnote (here, note 2).
2. Click on “Cross-reference” in the “References” menu.
3. In the pop-up box, click on the “Reference type” menu and select “Footnote.”
4. In the footnote listing, select the footnote that contains the original source (here, note 2) and click “Insert.” Note that this properly inserts “2” into note 5. Now the target footnote contains a proper cross-reference to the footnote containing the first citation of the source.
5. What if later on, you add new footnotes prior to note 2? Is that a problem? See below: oh no, now the reference in note 6 (formerly note 5) is wrong again because the original source is in note 3, note not 2. Should we worry? (Hint: don’t worry.)
6. That’s right: no worries, this is easily updated by Word! Just click once somewhere in the foonote area and do a CTRL-A (control-all) to select all the footnotes. Then hit F9 on your computer to update any internal cross-references. Go ahead and click “yes” to the “Word cannot undo this action” warning. Now note 6 correctly refers back to note 3! Pretty cool, huh?
Some closing comments
- What if you delete note 3? If you delete the original source footnote (here note 3), then your target cross-references will lose the anchor to which they are linked. This will lead to an error message when you do an F9.
- What if you decide that the Nathenson source should be cited earlier than note 3? If you decide that the original source should appear earlier in the article, you will have to update your cross-references. Use the method above.
- F9 does nothing? You may have to toggle your “function” or similar button on your keyboard so that F9 functions normally.
- But I have a Mac! I’ve taught students who have successfully used this technique with their Mac versions of Word. The exact methodology may vary somewhat from the PC version, but I suspect this technique will function similarly to Word for the PC.
- Save your work. Save your work often in case something goes wrong.
Posted Oct. 17, 2014