How should footnotes be attached to a text that doesn't form pages? Say, a lengthy text, over 10,000 words as a single webpage but with formatting limited to static text; I have no options to make them a hyperlink or tooltip, there's no margin to put them on.

I saw approaches like placing them at the end of the text, at the end of a section, after the paragraph they describe - and all seemed to come with their own disadvantages, like need to find the footnote, need to return to the place where the footnote was referred from, or disrupting the flow.

What would be the best way to attach footnotes to such text?


Four options:

  1. Look at Wikipedia. All the footnotes are at the bottom of the page but linked to from the footnote number (and in turn linking back up to the referring anchor). Familiarize yourself with HTML to understand how in-page links work, if you need to.

    Link to footnote:

    enter image description here

    Link from footnote back to the refering footnote number:

    enter image description here

  2. Have clicking the footnote link "open" a small CSS popup (not a separate window but a DIV that changes the CSS display value from none to block) on top of the text. Clicking anywere again "closes" the popup (i.e. returns the value to none.

    enter image description here

    You can combine option 1. and 2., as it is done on Wikipedia and some scientific online journal sites.

  3. Put the footnotes in a side margin beside the text. This can look very beautiful, if layouted well, and looks something like the side notes or short paragraph summaries in early modern texts.

    enter image description here

    Some text editors or formatting languages like (La)TeX offer specific functions for this. Google "margin notes" and the name of your text editor.

    enter image description here

    An example with figures in the margin:

    enter image description here

  4. As insets, similar to in-text images. Again, most text software offers functions for this.

    enter image description here

The following thoughts might guide you in your choice:

Footnotes at the end intrude on the reader the least and are therefore best used for information not necessary to the understanding, such as sources.

If the notes contain relevant information such as explanations of terms or examples to abstract explanations in text, they are better placed closer to the text they refer to.

Finally, there are style guides such as APA that discourage the use of footnotes and prefer inline citations instead, e.g. "(Scholes, 1983, p. 43)". In online journals these nevertheless often link to the respective entry in the bibliography which, in a one-page online article, appears at the foot of the page, effectively forming footnotes.

  • 1
    From the question: "I have no options to make them a hyperlink or tooltip, there's no margin to put them on". That seems to preclude all but your last option. The last one's an interesting idea, though. Apr 20 '15 at 19:40
  • If SF cannot work on the HTML source to create hyperlinks, tooltips or margins,, then he won't be able to format inset text blocks either, and there is nothing he can do but have plain old foot- or chapter notes.
    – user5645
    Apr 20 '15 at 20:01

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