Footnotes and Endnotes
By Ilene Strizver
Footnotes and endnotes are necessary components of scholarly and technical writing. They’re also frequently used by writers of fiction, from Herman Melville (Moby-Dick) to contemporary novelists. Whether their intent is academic or artistic, footnotes present special typographic challenges.
Specifically, a footnote is a text element at the bottom of a page of a book or manuscript that provides additional information about a point made in the main text. The footnote might provide deeper background, offer an alternate interpretation or provide a citation for the source of a quote, idea or statistic. Endnotes serve the same purpose but are grouped together at the end of a chapter, article or book, rather than at the bottom of each page.
These general guidelines will help you design footnotes and endnotes that are readable, legible and economical in space. (Note that academic presses and journals can be sticklers for format: before proceeding, check with your client or publisher to see if they have a specific stylesheet that must be followed.)
Numbers or Symbols?
Footnotes are most often indicated by placing a superscript numeral immediately after the text to be referenced. The same superscript numeral then precedes the footnoted text at the bottom of the page. Numbering footnotes is essential when there are many of them, but if footnotes are few they can be marked with a dagger, asterisk, or other symbol instead. Endnotes should always use numerals to facilitate easy reference to the main text.
Footnotes and endnotes are set smaller than body text. The difference in size is usually about two points, but this can vary depending on the size, style and legibility of the main text. Even though they’re smaller, footnotes and endnotes should still remain at a readable size.
Line spacing for footnotes and endnotes is usually tighter than that of the body text: they might typically be set with one point leading, or even set solid (that is, with no extra space between lines). Once again, the legibility and proportions of the typeface will determine optimal line spacing.
Choice of typeface
Keep footnotes and endnotes within the same type family as the body text. Depending on the typeface, a heavier weight or even an italic can be used for better legibility, readability and fit.
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- Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.