Note (typography)

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"Endnote" redirects here. For other uses, see Endnote (disambiguation).
"Footnote" redirects here. For the Israeli film, see Footnote (film).
For the usage of footnoting on Wikipedia, see Wikipedia:Cite sources and Wikipedia:Footnotes.

A note is a string of text placed at the bottom of a page in a book or document or at the end of a chapter, volume or the whole text. The note can provide an author's comments on the main text or citations of a reference work in support of the text, or both. In English, a footnote is normally flagged by a superscripted number immediately following that portion of the text the note is in reference to.

The first idea1 for the first footnote on the page, the second idea2 for the second footnote, and so on.

Occasionally a number between brackets or parentheses is used instead, thus: [1]. Typographical devices such as the asterisk (*) or dagger (†) may also be used to point to footnotes; the traditional order of these symbols in English is *, , , §, , .[1] Historically, was also at the end of this list.[2] In documents like timetables, many different symbols, as well as letters and numbers, may be used to refer the reader to particular notes. In John Bach McMaster's multi-volume History of the People of the United States the sequence runs *, †, ‡, # (instead of §), ‖, Δ (instead of ¶), , , ↕, ↑. In Arabic texts, a specific Arabic footnote marker (؂), encoded as U+0602 in Unicode, is also used. In Japanese, the corresponding symbol is (U+203B).

Footnotes are notes at the foot of the page while endnotes are collected under a separate heading at the end of a chapter, volume, or entire work. Unlike footnotes, endnotes have the advantage of not affecting the layout of the main text, but may cause inconvenience to readers who have to move back and forth between the main text and the endnotes.

The US Government Printing Office Style Manual devotes over two pages to the topic of footnotes.[3] NASA has guidance for footnote usage in its historical documents.[4]

Academic usage[edit]

Notes are most often used as an alternative to long explanatory notes that can be distracting to readers. Most literary style guidelines (including the Modern Language Association and the American Psychological Association) recommend limited use of foot and endnotes. However, publishers often encourage note references in lieu of parenthetical references. Aside from use as a bibliographic element, notes are used for additional information or explanatory notes that might be too digressive for the main text.

In particular, footnotes are the normal form of citation in historical journals. This is due, firstly, to the fact that the most important references are often to archive sources or interviews which do not readily fit standard formats, and secondly, to the fact that historians expect to see the exact nature of the evidence which is being used at each stage.

The MLA (Modern Language Association) requires the superscript numbers in the main text to be placed following the punctuation in the phrase or clause the note is in reference to. The exception to this rule occurs when a sentence contains a dash, in which case the superscript would precede it.

Aside from their technical use, authors use notes for a variety of reasons:

Literary device[edit]

At times, notes have been used for their comical effect, or as a literary device.


HTML, the predominant markup language for web pages, has no mechanism for marking up notes. Despite a number of different proposals over the years, and repeated pleas from the user base, the working group has been unable to reach a consensus on it. Because of this, MediaWiki, for example, has had to introduce its own <ref></ref> tag for citing references in notes, an idea which has since also been implemented for generic use by the Nelson HTML preprocessor.[7]

It might be argued that the hyperlink partially eliminates the need for notes, being the web's way to refer to another document. However, it does not allow citing to offline sources and if the destination of the link changes, the link can become dead or irrelevant.


Associate Justice Stephen Breyer of the Supreme Court of the United States is famous in the American legal community for his writing style, in which he never uses notes. He prefers to keep all citations within the text (which is permitted in American legal citation).[8] Richard A. Posner has also written against the use of notes in judicial opinions. Bryan A. Garner, however, advocates using notes instead of inline citations.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert Bringhurst (2005). The Elements of Typographic Style (version 3.1). Point Roberts, WA: Hartley and Marks. pp 68–69. Bringhurst goes on to say “But beyond the ... double dagger, this order is not familiar to most readers, and never was.”
  2. ^ William H. Sherman. "Toward a History of the Manicule". Retrieved 2013-06-28. 
  3. ^ "Chapter 15: Footnotes, indexes, contents, and outlines". U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual. Retrieved January 23, 2010. 
  4. ^ "A Guide to Footnotes and Endnotes for NASA History Authors". NASA History Style Guide. Retrieved March 24, 2005. 
  5. ^ Rogers, Timothy (1968). "Rupert Brooke: Man and Monument". English 17 (99): 79–84. doi:10.1093/english/17.99.79. Retrieved 21 March 2011. 
  6. ^ Candida Lycett Green (Betjeman's daughter), quoted in "Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Candida Lycett Green, writer", interview by Jonathan Sale. The Independent, Thursday 27 April 2006.
  7. ^ "Nelson HTML Preprocessor". Retrieved 2009-06-09. 
  8. ^ "In Justice Breyer's Opinion, A Footnote Has No Place". The New York Times. 1995-07-28. Retrieved 2008-04-30. 
  9. ^ See Indiana Courts – Footnotes in Legal Opinions

Further reading[edit]