What symbols used after difficult words in a text to refer a reader to a glossary for a definition?

I'm really looking for the most commonly used / accepted symbols and I am wondering whether certain symbols are specific only to particular subjects such as math / literature etc.

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    Are you looking for something other than a standard footnote number or asterisk/dagger? Sep 23, 2013 at 11:38
  • @LaurenIpsum I would think that a footnote marker would be the wrong thing if it doesn't lead to a note at the foot of the page (or an end-notes section) but rather a separate glossary. Sep 23, 2013 at 13:16
  • @MonicaCellio But you could put a statement at the beginning of the text saying "All terms with an asterisk are defined in the glossary." Seems straightforward to me. Sep 23, 2013 at 13:47
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    If there is not a typographic convention, it seems that one would want something that is unobtrusive (so those not needing a glossary can easily ignore its presence) and distinctive (so it is not mistaken as a footnote/endnote/marginal note and is easily recognized as something special). Ideally, such an indicator would also have a mnemonic quality (e.g., an upper case G would be memorable and distinctive if less unobtrusive). To deal with readers skipping the typographic conventions section/introduction, a footnote with the first use may be helpful. Italic, underscore, monospace, or ... Sep 23, 2013 at 23:48
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    ... other typeface cues might be used. (For readers familiar with web browsing, making text look somewhat like a link might be appropriate.) The ARM Architecture Reference Manual "Introduces special terminology, and denotes citations" by using italic and SMALL CAPS are "Used in body text for a few terms that have specific technical meanings, and are defined in the Glossary". Sep 23, 2013 at 23:53

3 Answers 3

  • Usually, there are no demarcations made in the text that would tell your readers if a word is present in the glossary or not.

  • In cases when there is a remark about something that needs to be made, a footnote is used.

  • In certain cases, the footnote is not explained in the footer of the same page, rather it refers to a different section usually titled "Notes".

  • For such footer symbols, the following convention is used:

    • If you want to explain footer at the end of the same page, start with asterisk (*) mark. If there are more than one such words on the same page, go ahead in the following order: * , ** , *** , **** , † , ‡ , §.

    • If you are using a "Notes" section, then you can use any symbol (preferably from the above defined list) to mark your words

  • In textbooks and articles, if words are to be included in a glossary (as is your question), there is no standard rule of using symbols. It is expected of the reader to have a look for and at the glossary, for words that they may find difficult.

  • As a suggestion you could italicize the first occurrence of words that you have included in the glossary

  • As an alternate, you can put an * mark next to the words (though this might distract your reader).

  • Another possible solution is to include a mark in a bracket. For example you could write (G) in the bracket (similar to Clayton's comment)

Hope this helps.

Addition: You can find the details about footnotes that I have referred to above at this link: http://dd.dgacm.org/editorialmanual/ed-guidelines/footnotes/footnotes_chap_09.htm

I have taken the info about the order of symbols to be used in the footnote from the above (which happens to be a chapter from "United Nations Editorial Manual").

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    What do you base these recommendations on? For example, is there some style guide that specifies the order of symbols that you give? Is this common practice in your experience (and if so what is that experience)? Thanks. Sep 27, 2013 at 13:46
  • @MonicaCellio: I had based my recommendation of following this order of symbols on "United Nations Editorial Manual", the link to which is dd.dgacm.org/editorialmanual/ed-guidelines/footnotes/… Wikipedia cites some other source that points to this order of symbols (had not followed that, though). Thanks to your comment, I looked back at the order that I had posted and found that there was a typo as the * printed coincides with the * used by SE for formatting. The order of asterisks that I had wanted to write is: one, two, three, and four. Thanks for highlighting! Sep 27, 2013 at 14:10
  • @MonicaCellio I have edited the content and included the order as preformatted text so that there are no missing asterisks. Thanks for your comment. Brought it to my attention. Apologies for not having noted it before. Sep 27, 2013 at 14:14
  • Pravesh, thanks for the additional info. Could you edit what you said about your sources into the answer itself? (We want answers to be complete and comments aren't guaranteed to stick around.) Thanks. Sep 27, 2013 at 18:07

I used footnotes in my book (which is in English with Maltese words used occasionally throughout). Word provides footnotes with ease. You can also make a glossary automatically.


If you can live with it not being after the word, my dead-trees encyclopedia which was written long before web 2.0 was all the hype uses something like the form ►someword (that's U+25BA from the Geometric Shapes Unicode block; Black right-pointing pointer) to refer specifically to other subjects found in the encyclopedia. I can't cite any real facts to support the following, but it seems to be a fairly common notation in such works.

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