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When using superscripts to indicate a footnote, do these fall inside or outside adjacent punctuation? If there is an answer, is that answer applicable worldwide, or just to specific regions or publishers?

Does it matter what the particular punctuation is, including such punctuation as commas, colons, parentheses and other brackets, periods, and quotation marks?

Does it matter whether the footnote applies to just one gloss1, or to an entire phrase in toto?

Does the answer change if, instead of using instead of numeric footnotes, you use the traditional sequence of symbols (*, †, ‡, §, ‖, and ¶)2  ?


  1. OED: “A word inserted between the lines or in the margin as an explanatory equivalent of a foreign or otherwise difficult word in the text; hence applied to a simliar explanatory rendering of a word given in a glossary or dictionary.”

  2. As enumerated on pp 68–69 of Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style (version 3.2); Hartley and Marks, 2008. Bringhurst goes on to say “But beyond the asterisk, dagger3, and double dagger4, this order is not familiar to most readers, and never was.”

  3. That is, the † character at codepoint U+2020 DAGGER, also known as the obelisk, obelus, or long cross. The classical plural of obelus is obeli.

  4. That is, the ‡ character at codepoint U+2021 DOUBLE DAGGER, also known as the
    diesis or double obelisk. The classical plural of diesis is dieses.

  • 2
    What I do know is that notes within notes are a no-no! – Cerberus Dec 22 '12 at 15:34
  • 1
    @Mitch: I have only the above comment. But seriously, common sense dictates that you use as few notes as possible: a note is a necessary evil. They are an evil because switching between main text and notes is very annoying, easy to lose track of where you were. You only use them when you have to. If you are already in a note, then why not just write out whatever details you wish to add within the note itself, instead of referring to yet another note? There is no reason at all to do so, and it makes your text even less readable. Unless you are trying to make your text look fancier than it is... – Cerberus Dec 22 '12 at 23:25
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because answers will be (or rather are) primarily opinion based: 'A lot depends on what style manual you follow.' – Edwin Ashworth Dec 6 '15 at 17:04
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    @EdwinAshworth: I have to vociferously disagree with the close vote here. As I have discovered in the research to my new question (which I now agree was off-topic), there is definitely a consensus about the placement of these symbols which is independent of style guides. There may be a few exceptions for particular editorial styles, but there are generally accepted standards. – Athanasius Dec 6 '15 at 20:06
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    @EdwinAshworth - Also, I just read the Meta question you quoted. That Meta question actually has answers implying that style guide questions are okay, if they are "incidental" to the usage question being asked. This question is not asking for opinions from style guides -- it is asking for the standard practice, and there is one: footnote numbers go after terminal punctuation and usually after internal punctuation (exceptions to the latter may sometimes be dictated by style guide). – Athanasius Dec 6 '15 at 20:17
3

I thought readers might like to see how different style guides address the general question of how to position footnote callouts (termed "cues" in The Oxford Guide to Style, "note numbers" in The Chicago Manual of Style, and "references" in Words into Type). Here is a quick rundown of the relevant passages from one British and five U.S. style guides.

From The Oxford Guide to Style (2002):

15.16.5 Cues

Note references can be cued in several ways. The most common is by superscript figures or letters. Place in-text cues outside punctuation, but inside the closing parenthesis when referring solely to matter within the parentheses. Normally cues fall at the end of a sentence unless referring only to part of the sentence: a cue at the end of a sentence represents the whole of a sentence:

Causes for infection were initially thought to be isolated.16 (This as rapidly discredited.17) Even so, specialists in England18 and Wales19 reached different conclusions during subsequent tests.

From The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition (2010):

14.21 Placement of note number. A note number should generally be laced at the end of a sentence or at the end of a clause. The number normally follows a quotation (whether it is run in to the text or set as an extract). Relative to other punctuation, the number follows any punctuation except for the dash, which it precedes.

"This," wrote George Templeton Strong, "is what our tailors can do."1

The bias was apparent in the Shotwell series3—and it must be remembered that Shotwell was a student of Robinson's.

Though a note number normally follows a closing parenthesis, it may on rare occasions be more appropriate to place the number inside the closing parenthesis—if, for example, the note applies to a specific term within the parentheses.

(In an earlier book he had said quite the opposite.)2

Men and their unions, as they entered industrial work, negotiated two things: young women would be laid off once they married (the commonly acknowledged "marriage bar"1), and men would be paid a "family wage."

[[The logical superiority of the Oxford system to the Chicago system should be evident from this incidental use of footnotes in Chicago:

14.4 Electronic resource identifiers. When citing electronic sources consulted online, Chicago recommends—as the final element in a citation that include all the components described throughout this chapter and in chapter 15—the addition of a URL1 or DOI.2

  1. For more information about URLs, consult the website of...

  2. For more information about DOIs, consult the websites of...

In this instance, Chicago clearly means for its footnote 2 to apply only to the word "DOI" in the sentence where the callout for footnote 2 appears. That being the case, Oxford would have advised putting the superscript 2 inside the end punctuation; but Chicago's less precise rule requires putting that number outside any end punctuation. Consequently, Chicago's method is incapable of distinguishing between a footnote that refers to the final portion of a sentence and a footnote that applies to the entire sentence.]]

From [Merriam-]Webster's Standard American Style Manual (1985):

Placement of the Elements

Footnotes and endnotes to a text are indicated by unpunctuated Arabic superior numbers (or reference symbols, discussed later in this section) placed immediately after the quotation or information with no intervening space. The number is usually placed at the end of a sentence or clause, or at some other natural break in the sentence when the material is not a quotation. The number follows all marks of punctuation except the dash. If a terminal quotation mark appears (as at the end of a short quotation that is included in the running text), the numeral is placed outside the final quotation mark with no space intervening [cross reference omitted].

From Words into Type, third edition (1974):

Position of references. Reference figures or marks should be set after any mark of punctuation except the dash or a closing parenthesis if the reference relates to matter within the parentheses. They should be placed after, not before, a word or paragraph that is explained or amplified.

...

Reference to the footnote citing the source of an excerpt should stand at the end of the excerpt, not in the text that precedes it. Thus placed, the reference does not distract the attention of the reader as it would elsewhere.

From Hodges' Harbrace Handbook, revised thirteenth edition (1998):

Both footnotes and endnotes require that a superscript number be placed wherever documentation is necessary. The number should be as near as possible to whatever it refers to, following the punctuation (such as quotation marks, a comma, or a period) that appears at the end of the direct or indirect quotation.

From MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, second edition (1998):

A.2 Note Numbers

... Format note numbers as as superior, or superscript, arabic numerals (i.e., raised slightly above the line, like this1, without periods, parentheses, or slashes. The numbers follow punctuation marks, except dashes. In general, to avoid interrupting the continuity of the text, place a note number, like a parenthetical reference, at the end of the sentence, clause, or phrase containing the material quoted or referred to.


Conclusions

The style guides I consulted are effectively unanimous in agreeing that, when a footnote comprehends the entire sentence or clause at whose end the footnote callout is to appear, the callout superscript number or mark should appear after any punctuation marks that appear at that point—unless the punctuation mark in question is a dash or (in some guidelines) a close-parenthesis mark.

The style guides disagree about where to place the callout number or mark when it comprehends only part of the sentence or phrase where it appears, with Oxford offering the most logical and granular approach to dealing with such situations and most U.S. style guides recommending a less precise treatment.

Publishers' house styles vary considerably on the question of handling callouts that apply to only part of a sentence. The publisher I currently work for takes what may be the most extreme approach I've seen: when a manuscript includes sentences with internal footnote callouts that apply to only part of the sentence in which they appear, the publisher insists on either moving the footnote to the end of the whole sentence (outside the end punctuation)—and in instances where the author had marked more than one internal callout to occur in a single sentence, consolidating the footnotes into a single, longer footnote—or breaking the original sentence into two or more shorter sentence and assigning the footnote callout to the appropriate shorter sentence (again, outside the end punctuation). Because the publisher is not a scholarly press and because it deals with institutional rather than individual academic authors, it can dictate this sort of intervention without prompting an author rebellion, but I don't recommend this approach for most situations.

  • Particularly when using footnotes, or indeed endnotes with the same call-out style, for citations, it's imperative to make the scope of the note clear (as you allude to in your last paragraph). This (IMO from an academic point of view) trumps matters of style, which Oxford seems to support. – Chris H Oct 22 '18 at 6:45
  • I think I would say comprise, rather than comprehend, myself. – Lambie Nov 21 '18 at 18:48
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A lot depends on what style manual you follow. I follow Hart’s Rules at the University Press Oxford and according to Hart’s -

Footnote references should be placed outside punctuation, but inside the closing parenthesis when referring to matter within parentheses.

It makes no distinction between numeric or symbol footnotes.

It makes no distinction between a single word or phrase.

Footnotes should begin with the numbers indented 1 em space.

9

In my business, it depends on what the journal publisher says is the rule. Most journals require them to be outside the punctuation. Some, like all the journals published by the Nature group, require them to be inside the punctuation. There are reasonable arguments for whatever style is mandated, but there's no internationally accepted style.

Although, according to the Chicago Manual of Style (Rule 16.25), it is proper to place the superscript footnote inside the semicolon and colon but outside the comma and period, some (very few) biomedical publishers don't like that foolish inconsistency: they demand that all superscript footnotes be outside the punctuation.

I've never seen a style manual that says it matters "whether the footnote applies to just one gloss, or to an entire phrase".

In biomedical journals, the traditional symbols aren't allowed in the text, only in the list of author names, and it doesn't matter: some publishers want them inside and others want them outside the punctuation.

All rules are ad hoc, it seems.

3

It seems that when dealing with British/UK English conventions, the note number would be placed within the punctuation (comma, period, semicolon, etc.). When using US English, note numbers are generally placed outside of the punctuation. While there is no hard and fast rule as to one way or the other per se, I would advise consistency above all. Regardless of which method you choose, be certain to employ it consistently throughout the entirety of your text/document.

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