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.

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.

In some ions of the Bible, notes are placed in a narrow column in the middle of each page between two columns of biblical text.

Numbering and symbols[]

In English, a footnote or endnote is normally flagged by a superscripted number immediately following that portion of the text the note references, each such footnote being numbered sequentially. Occasionally a number between brackets or parentheses is used instead, thus: [1], which can also be superscripted.

Typographical devices such as the asterisk (*) or dagger (†) may also be used to point to notes; the traditional order of these symbols in English is *, , , §, , .[1] Other symbols, including the #, Δ, , , and , have also been used.[2][3] In documents like timetables, many different symbols, letters and numbers may refer the reader to particular notes.

In CJK languages, written with Chinese characters, the symbol (called reference mark; Japanese: komejirushi; Korean: chamgopyo) is used for notes and highlighting, analogously to the asterisk in English.

Academic usage[]

Notes are most often used as an alternative to long explanations, citations, comments or annotations 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, qualification or explanation that might be too digressive for the main text. Footnotes are heavily utilized in academic institutions to support claims made in academic essays covering myriad topics.

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.[citation needed]

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

Government documents[]

The US Government Printing Office Style Manual devotes over 660 words to the topic of footnotes.[6] NASA has guidance for footnote usage in its historical documents.[7]

Legal writing[]

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.[9] Bryan A. Garner, however, advocates using notes instead of inline citations.[10]


HTML, the predominant markup language for web pages, has no mechanism for adding 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.

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.[11] A proposed solution is the use of a digital object identifier.


The London printer Richard Jugge is generally cred as the inventor of the footnote, first used in the Bishops' Bible of 1568.[12]

Early printings of the Douay Bible used two closely spaced colons (actually squared four dot punctuation mark U+2E2C “⸬”) to indicate a marginal note.

Literary device[]

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

See also[]


  1. ^ Robert Bringhurst (2005). The Elements of Typographic Style (version 3.1). Point Roberts, Wash.: 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" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-06-28.
  3. ^ Many of these symbols are used, for example, in John Bach McMaster, History of the People of the United States
  4. ^ Rogers, Timothy (1968). "Rupert Brooke: Man and Monument". English. 17 (99): 79–84. doi:10.1093/english/17.99.79.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "Chapter 15: Footnotes, indexes, contents, and outlines". U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  7. ^ "A Guide to Footnotes and Endnotes for NASA History Authors". NASA History Style Guide. Retrieved March 24, 2005.
  8. ^ "In Justice Breyer's Opinion, A Footnote Has No Place". The New York Times. 1995-07-28. Retrieved 2008-04-30.
  9. ^ Posner, Richard A. (Summer 2001). "Against Footnotes" (PDF). Court Review. American Judges Association. Retrieved 2014-10-13.
  10. ^ Oddi, Marcia (2005-01-07). "Indiana Courts - Footnotes in Judicial Opinions". The Indiana Law Blog. Retrieved 2015-11-04.
  11. ^ Jill Lepore. "The Cobweb", The New Yorker, 26 January 2015 issue. Retrieved 25 January 2015. Archived from the original.
  12. ^ Chuck Zerby, The Devil's Details: A History of Footnotes, 2007, ISBN 1931229058, p. 28 and passim
  13. ^ Grady Hendrix, "Do You Believe in Magic?" Archived 16 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine, The Village Voice (24 August 2004). Retrieved 5 January 2009.
  14. ^ Michael Dirda, "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" Archived 29 September 2012 at WebCite, The Washington Post (5 September 2004). Retrieved 5 January 2009.

Further reading[]