Mastering Footnotes: Where to Put the Numbers

Screenshot footnote

A note number in its natural habitat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve noted some confusion among clients about how to handle note numbers (the technical term for the superscript number appearing in the body of a manuscript).  I thought some general clearing-up might be a very useful gift to the world.  Well, a mildly useful gift to a limited number of people.  But still.

First off, you can’t just stick them any old place.  You should always aim to place note numbers at the end of the sentence or a clause.  Merge two footnotes if you have to.  If, for clarity’s sake, it’s necessary to put a footnote next to a specific term, then do so, but use this approach sparingly (CMoS, 16th ed., 14.21).

Second, note numbers come after, not before, punctuation.  The only exception is the dash, or, again, isolated cases that help clarify (14.21).

Third, Word is your friend.  Use it how it was meant to be used.  Allow it to set up your footnotes or endnotes for you.  Why do some people go through and put the little numbers in themselves?  Why do they then go on to type out the endnotes in a list form at the end?  No one knows, because this way lies only sadness and confusion.  Keep in mind that Word, unlike you, can automatically link up the notes with the note numbers.  Think of the advantages and embrace the technology, my friends!


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