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Posted on 2018-Jun-22 at 10:09:10 (last updated on 2022-04-07 at 10:05:00) by Phil
Traditional book printing puts a footnote callout in-line and the footnote itself at the bottom of the page (or sometimes at the end of a chapter or even the whole book). This may not be a desirable arrangement for material to be read on a screen. There is an interesting discussion that you may want to read.
Here we will cover an assortment of supplemental text (also images) that is not to appear inline, but should be easily accessible for a reader who is interested in looking at this supplemental material. This includes traditional footnotes (at the bottom, or foot, of a page), endnotes collected at the end of a chapter (or even the entire book), marginal notes appearing as an inset or off in the page margin (possibly carving out a bit of the main text’s space, as needed), screen pop-ups (dialogs) or slide-outs, links to separate pages, and possibly other methods. In all cases, the intent is to have the supplemental material not in line with the main text, but to be marked (and possibly accessed) via an unobtrusive mark or link.
The style of a callout can vary by author, publisher, and type of material (explanatory/elaboration on a point, cross reference to related material, bibliographic/source material, etc.), e.g., * and other symbols; number, possibly in brackets; name/year, again often in brackets). It should be consistent within a given usage, at least, although there is no reason you can’t mix them in a document. Either superscript the callout or put it in brackets [ and ], so it’s not confused with the mainline text. For dynamic links (pop-ups, etc.) it could even be a graphic arrow, although be careful about what will happen when the page is printed. Don’t use symbols for off-page notes, as it’s far easier to remember a number or name than, “was that a single dagger or a double-dagger?” when moving several pages to read the endnotes. Finally, some prefer a vertical list of notes, while others flow them into one paragraph. The latter may take up less space for a multitude of very short notes, but be harder to find the desired note.
There are lots of ways to present supplemental information in a text. Keep in mind convenience, accessibility, and whether it will be usable when printed (or, even read offline). You may be tempted to use a kewl-looking slide-out on your webpage for this material, but is it accessible when printed, or usable with a screen reader?
Posted on 2022-04-07 at 11:05:00 by Phil
When deciding how to handle footnotes and related asides (endnotes, bibliographic entries, etc.), keep in mind how the material is to be presented to the end user: browser-oriented (indefinitely long pages) or page-oriented (PDF or printing), screen or paper output, and perhaps other considerations.
Footnotes and other optional material are normally being presented as an aside of some sort, that is, not required in-line reading, but additional material that can be skipped over without losing too much understanding. How you present it can vary by the degree of importance. A floating box on the screen (whenever the callout is visible on the screen) demands your attention and would be a compulsory read. A slide-in from the edge is a bit less pushy, as is a link to a conventional-looking footnote, while a static footnote at the bottom of the screen (or at a convenient inter-paragraph point) is the least intrusive. Just keep in mind that a web page could be very long, and it would not be good to force a lot of scrolling to get to it. A link would be called for to get to the footnote, with a return link (or Back button) used to return. Try to minimize the number of different footnote styles you use — just one, if possible.
A page-oriented format, such as PDF, breaks up the material into paper-sized chunks, so conventional (printed book) style footnotes are acceptable. The amount of scrolling needed is typically minimal, as compared to an HTML page, and thus acceptable to users. Even so, PDFs can have internal links (similar to HTML links) which can make footnotes more convenient. Such links should certainly be use for endnotes and any other references that may appear on another page. Note that most PDF readers do not have a “Back” button, so a reverse link at the footnote or endnote will be necessary to get you back to the original text.
Finally, there is the issue of on-screen versus printed handling of footnotes, in whatever format you want to interact with them. Obviously there can be nothing dynamic about a printed format — everything needs to be there, and in a reasonable place. Printed output is also almost always on standard office paper sheets, so placing a footnote at the bottom of the page (on which it is called out) is appropriate. If you know that your material will always be printed for reading, you should simply format it to look good on a page. However, any electronic document is bound to be read at least some of the time on a screen, and whatever you use should work there, too. What you don’t want is a fancy mechanism (e.g., slide-in) that doesn’t print well. Ideally, you want control over separate screen and printed formats so that the information appears cleanly in both versions, whether it's at the bottom of the page for printed (regardless of the source) or some dynamic mechanism.
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