Hyperlinking Within a Contract

It’s relatively commonplace for contracts to point the reader to terms contained on a website. It follows that electronic versions of such contracts often hyperlink those URLs.

But recently someone asked me about using hyperlinks for a different purpose, namely to speed cross-referencing within a Word document. You can hyperlink the entries in a table of contents, as well as references to exhibits, schedules, and other sections. You could even link a defined term to the definition of that term, although that would likely be distracting.

Go here for Word 2007 Help and How-to instructions on hyperlinking within a document.

Do any of you use such hyperlinks? Have you encountered them in drafts sent to you? If so, do you find them useful?

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

7 thoughts on “Hyperlinking Within a Contract”

  1. Yes, I use hyperlinking within Word documents. Not only are they great for easily and speedily moving around within the document (and then right back to where you were), they can also make editing a document a breeze. Using various linking features within Word, such as a table of contents and automated numbering, means you can edit something once and have that change populate throughout the document.

    In 20+ years of practicing, I have yet to see any other attorneys take advantage of the rich features provided by word-processing programs. The vast majority of computer users, in my humble opinion, still try to use them as fancy typewriters. Thank goodness some users have finally figured out word-wrap and don’t try to type a hard return at the end of every line they see on the monitor.

  2. Our firm has automatic cross-referencing (so that if you insert a new clause 1, all the references to other clauses change). We also have automated buttons for 6 levels of headers/paragraphs, which make the documents consistent and easy to manage, without needing to manually tab or double return to create space. Our tables of contents also automate. It’s a fairly basic package, but it makes a huge difference.

    I can’t bear receiving documents from other firms or counterparties with appalling formatting that eats up time to maintain as the document is amended. I’m afraid to say that US firms – usually large, New York firms who should have significant resources for this kind of thing – are among the worst culprits. But then their documents often begin “W I T N E S S E T H”, so it figures.

    Regarding hyperlinks, our tables of contents do hyperlink to the relevant clause, and the footnotes hyperlink (which I think Word does anyway?), but otherwise we don’t use them.

  3. Ken:

    I go back and forth on them.

    When you insert a cross reference, Word makes it a hyperlink by default (at least, as I am configured).

    If I anticipate that the document may end up being read in some program other than Word, I may make all the cross-references not be hyperlinks.

    Otherwise, I leave it alone, but only out of laziness, not design. I generally don’t use the hyperlinks, but they are there if others do.

    A better practice point would be that, when you finish the document, you go back and click each hyperlink to make sure that the corss-reference really refers to what you intended. Sometimes you can mess up your corss-references by moving sections around. Using the hyperlinks is usually easier than any other method of checking them.

    When I insert a table of contents (which is rare), I usually make it hyperlinked.


  4. I create documents with hyperlinked cross-references. Most of the people who read my documents probably don’t even know the links are there, but I use them myself to get around in the document, and I also rely on the navigation pane. I don’t like tables of contents, but some people really appreciate them, and when I do create one, I use hyperlinks. Chris is correct that it’s really easy to get the cross-references messed up so that the number is incorrect and the hyperlink doesn’t go to the right place. Then there’s that thing about using F9 to update the numbers in cross-references. Like a lot of the more powerful features of Word, cross-references and hyperlinks are useful if you know what you’re doing but can be frustrating if you don’t.

  5. I’m wondering if anyone has ever used a tabbed contract that has short, plain explanations of the clause, and a link to “more details” below the short statement. I was thinking of this as a possible solution to online users not reading or understanding the terms because the contract is too wordy and esoteric. Thoughts?

    • Annotating contract text with short explanations is a bad idea: it raises the question which version of a given section controls. The contract should speak for itself; if people don’t understand it, then fix the contract. If people still can’t be bothered to read it, that’s a bigger issue.


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