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Footnote symbol order

November 27, 2006 by  

I received a reward program credit card application from Fidelity Investments over the weekend. As with any such application, reading the footnotes is critical to understanding just what is included in the marketing promises. I also spent many years working on such acquisition applications, so I have a morbid curiosity to read these boring things (or I’m just a glutton for punishment).

All the obscure use of footnotes in this one just made my head hurt. Six-panel brochures are hard to navigate as is, but the writer/reviewers did a poor job footnoting the details. There was no consistency or recognizable pattern. For example, the first inside panel cites in the following order: §§, **, *, †. I don’t know what reference manual they used. More likely, it was a marketing intern or other inexperienced, young professional.

Chicago Manual used to be the gold standard, but is more and more ignored either because of lack of experience or because software application programmers set up defaults that didn’t follow a proper guide.

Here’s an order I like to follow to make it less chaotic — you should decide for yourself whether it’s appropriate for your needs:

1 asterisk *
2 dagger
3 double dagger
4 section symbol §
5 parallel lines ||
6 paragraph
7 number sign #
restart using doubles
8 two asterisks **
9 two daggers ††
10 two double daggers ‡‡
etc.

Many, myself included, are tempted to follow a eye-pleasing *, **, †, ††, but not correct by some standards. Standards and consistency are important. Decide for yourself.

Hope you find this helpful.
-Roland

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