This question isn't about a case that I have a problem with; it's just a purely hypothetical thing that I've been thinking about.

Suppose you are writing a book or maybe an article for a journal. At the bottom of a page - the last line - you have a sentence that you want to put a footnote on. However, because you're on the very final line, if you put in place the space for a footnote (even a one line footnote), then the original line would move to the start of the next page. As such, the footnote should then be on the next page... freeing up the space for the line to return to its original space!

Basically, my question is just 'what do you do here'? I would imagine you put the footnote marker on the sentence in the original place (bottom of page), and then the footnote goes at the bottom of the next page. This is just my guess though.

Sorry about the lack of tags: if you can think of any others that I should have tagged it with, then feel free to add them in! :)

Also, I've migrated this from 'english.SE'. Hopefully this site is better for it. :)

  • I'm no expert at WP and typesetting, but I'd have thought even a rudimentary word processor would automatically force a footnote to be on the same page as the "forward reference" to it in in the main body of text. If that implies running the main text on to the following page one or more lines earlier than would otherwise have been the case, so be it. Aug 11, 2015 at 13:17
  • Indeed word processing software has ably taken over this whole headache. In paranoid moments, I sometimes wonder whether MLA switched from a footnote system to a parenthetical-citation system because the shift from typewriters to word processors had made footnotes no longer the stuff of typographic nightmare. A common Word solution is to place the line with the footnote call at the very bottom of the page, if so it falls, and the footnote on the following page, preceded by a distinctly longer than usual line as footnote separator.
    – Brian Donovan
    Aug 11, 2015 at 14:31

4 Answers 4


Choice 1: Move the last line and the footnote to the next page. This will leave a little blank space on the original page. If you want an even bottom margin, increase the line spacing, or move some text from the previous page to the current page, which means moving text from the page before that, etc, and reformatting the entire chapter.

Choice 2: Put the footnote on the facing page.

I'd vote against any solution that puts the footnote marker -- the asterisk or superscript or whatever -- on a right-hand (recto) page and the footnote text on the following page. That would be confusing to the reader.

  • Choice 1 sounds good. I don't really understand what you mean by choice 2. Do you mean it would be ok if it were "left page ^[1], right page _[footnote]", but not "right page ^[1], overleaf next (left) page _[footnote]"? (If so, then I'd agree!)
    – Sam OT
    Aug 11, 2015 at 19:18
  • @SmileySam Yes!
    – Jay
    Aug 11, 2015 at 20:02

Usually you should avoid orphaned footnotes. I do not remember ever having seen a professionally published book where the footnote started on another page as the text it referred to.

But this is something the publisher and their typesetter or book designer take care of. It shouldn't concern any writer, who has to hand in a plain, often even markup-free manuscript.

If you self publish, you have several options, all of which have disadvantages:

  • change image size

    If your book has images, graphics, tables, or inset text boxes that your main text flows around, an easy solution is changing the size of one of these objects preceding the problematic passage. If your book does not have these, you must change aspects of the text itself:

  • increase or decrease letter spacing

    Sometimes this makes a lonely word slip up one line. If you change letter spacing by between 0.1 to 0.5 point, most readers won't notice, but if you look at your book with squinted eyes, that paragraph might look a bit darker and the text more "hurried". Other options certainly don't make typographers frown so much.

  • increase or decrease word spacing

    Word spacing is variable in justified text, because otherwise a ragged right margin would be unavoidable. Changing this value slightly will be equally (un)recognizable, but has the advantage of not changing the legibility and kerning of the words. If you do that for a whole paragraph, you can save a line or make it a line longer.

  • change line spacing

    You can only do this if the paper is thick enough so the text on the other page does not shine through, and you must do it for both facing pages, otherwise this will look strange. Also, it works better on pages with lots of lines. If your book is small and the text large, don't do this, because it will be recognizable.

  • change size of the type area (or "page margins", if you think Word) in the whole book

    This will of course change text flow in the whole book, too, but with some luck there is a setting where there are no orphans. Again, a typographer with a trained eye will cry if you do that, but most published books aren't well layed out anyway, and especially trade paperbacks often have text that runs within a few millimeters of the margins, so readers usually are used to this look and won't mind it as much.

    You can of course play with all the text settings mentioned above – word spacing, letter spacing, and line height – in all of the book. This will make the change unnoticeable (because everything looks the same), but if the change is large it will make all of the book unappealing. It might be better to:

  • use a different font

    Some fonts come with different letter widths (ultra condensed, extra condensed, condensed, semicondensed, regular, semiexpanded, expanded, extra expanded, ultra expanded), so this will allow you to have a very similar "look" but different amount of text in one line. If your font doesn't come in different letter widths, often there are clones of that font that don't have the exact same font metrics, or you can try a completely different font altogether. As with all book-wide changes, this may or may not lead to a good layout, depending on your luck.

  • change the text

    Since you self publish anyway, you are not limited by the sanctity of the text that a typesetter has to respect. This is regularly done in newspaper and magazine publishing, where tests are written to be cropped, but a no-no in literature. But if it's your own text and you are more concerne with orphans than composition, simply change a few words, and your text will flow as you want it. This might be the easiest, quickest, and least frustrating solution, except for the last:

  • don't give a wet fart

    Why would you worry about one footnote? Invest your time and energy into writing your next book. Content is what satisfies your readers and makes them buy your books. We are in it for the money, and 80-20 is good enough for becoming rich, as all those best-selling books will show you. (Meaning: get 80% of the money by delivering a 20% book, of course. ;-)

  • Gingerly. Judiciously. One should not wantonly kern type in either direction just to save a word or two. Aug 11, 2015 at 17:15
  • @LaurenIpsum Edited. Better?
    – user5645
    Aug 11, 2015 at 18:20
  • Excellent answer, thanks. It is actually purely a mental exercise, but I may well come across it in the future. I have seen, when there is a large footnote, the footnote continuing onto the next page. I really did not like this! I think, personally, the best option is just to change the text around slightly - even just the order of a couple of words - until a line goes up or down one.
    – Sam OT
    Aug 11, 2015 at 19:24
  • Also, the last point is very important. I've been writing a maths paper recently (this situation didn't pop up, it's just something I've been thinking about for a while), and I've tried to make sure that I ignore bad formatting until the end. In all probability, I'll make some changes that correct this bad formatting, so wait until the end. It's similar to LaTeX typesetting: number one rule is to not spend all the time typesetting, but the majority writing the paper!
    – Sam OT
    Aug 11, 2015 at 19:26
  • 1
    Yes, much better. Now this typographer won't cry. :) Although there's one more option you could add: have all your notes at the end of the chapter or the book. Aug 11, 2015 at 20:22

Cheat and edit your text. Or keep combing backwards through your layout, either pushing a few lines forward or bringing a few lines back, until your footnote and the referent are on the same page.

  • 1
    I think this is probably the best solution. It is a bit cheating. What I think is important, however, is that you don't worry about it at first. I've been writing a maths paper recently, and if I had some bad formatting -- eg just one short word on a single line -- then I just ignore it; I'm very likely to change something before I've finished to document that means that this changes. Only at the end should these things be addressed, otherwise you end up wasting so much time.
    – Sam OT
    Aug 11, 2015 at 19:24

I've seen this situation in Bibles handled by 'forcing' the annotated text to the following page, leaving a blank space at the bottom of the page.

If this looks 'off', you may want to distribute this blank space between the lines of text or halve it, top and bottom.

  • Yeah, now you mention it I think I've seen that in my Bible/commentary. The issue with distribution between the lines is that then the lines are in the wrong place vertically. If I were to force it, I'd just leave a blank space at the bottom, I think.
    – Sam OT
    Aug 11, 2015 at 13:22
  • Also, could you delete this answer (once you've cross-posted)? I'll then remove the question from this site. Thanks! :)
    – Sam OT
    Aug 11, 2015 at 19:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.