Stop using unlinked footnotes, please!

Please, please, for the love of the 21st century, stop putting unlinked footnotes in your blog posts. I know, I know, “everyone” does it. But you guys, it’s really rude.

What’s an unlinked footnote? It’s when you write something, and then wanting to comment on what you just wrote (or give references or whatever), you put a little asterisk * or two ** or more *****. And then down below at the bottom of your post, you write your little comment.

Do you know what this does to your readers? They start reading your post. And then you force them to stop reading and scroll down to the bottom of the post to read the little thing you wrote there. And then scroll back up and do lots of visual search work to find where the left off reading the main text. This is a really rude thing to ask your readers to do online. Value their time. They will appreciate it.

Okay, so what should you do? I hear you say, “I’m busy, I can’t be bothered to do anything complicated.” Fine, then if you must write at peak laziness, do this: don’t use footnotes at all; use parenthesis. You could even go all fancy and use brackets or curly braces. Your readers will get used to it. They will understand that what you say is a parenthetical. { I mean how else would someone interpret a curly-braced comment? } You even save yourself the time of scrolling up and down to add the footnote when you’re writing. Peak laziness achieved!

Still really like footnotes? Okay, no problem. But link them. (Please link them!) The Web’s philosophical foundation centers around the “hyperlink,” which allows a reader to jump from place to place without having to move in a sequential fashion. This is what makes it so powerful. This is what makes it different from print books and newspapers and magazines. Harness that power!

You should ideally link both from your main text to your footnote and then back up from the footnote to where the reader left off in the main text, so you don’t leave them floundering. How do you do that? You use something called “anchor links,” which tells a browser what to show when the corresponding hyperlink is clicked. An anchor links is where a link points to.

If you’re on WordPress, do this when composing your post:

  1. Switch to “Text” mode from “Visual” mode. There’s a little tab to do this in the upper right, when you’re composing a new post.
  2. Find the place you want to link TO, i.e., the footnote itself at the bottom of the page. *
  3. BEFORE the footnote, type <p id="linkname"> and substitute a unique-to-that name for that footnote for linkname. (I use names like foot1 and foot2. So, for example: <p id="foot1">)
  4. Now you can go back to “Visual” mode.
  5. Go to the place in your main text where you want the footnote. Type in a footnote symbol such as ***** or [1], select the symbol, and then click the ‘Insert/edit link’ button in the WordPress toolbar.
  6. In the URL box, type #linkname, substituting the unique name that you chose in step 3. (For example: #foot1). Make sure the box for ‘Open link in a new tab’ is NOT checked.

And that’s it! You now send your readers automatically from your main text to your footnote with a single click. No scrolling or hunting needed. You should do the same thing for the reverse direction, allowing readers an easy way to jump back into the text. You can do this by using the caret symbol (^) as the link in the footnote [2], which has become the conventional way to do this.

If you’re on Blogger or any other blogging platform, the process is essentially the same. Go the the place where you can alter the HTML directly, add in the anchor link (step 3 above), and then make a link to the anchor using the # symbol with the anchor link name (step 6 above). You can search for specific directions for your blogging platform using the term ‘anchor link’ if you need more help. And I’m willing to bet dimes to donuts that there are plugins for all major platforms that will let you do anchor links with the click of a button.

So please link your blog footnotes (if you must use footnotes at all). It’s a little thing to do, and your readers will thank you for it.


* Here is a footnote!

***** Here is another footnote.

1. Don’t you think the numbered footnotes look better than all those asterisks? Who wants to count asterisks once you get above about three? You can get really fancy and use superscripted numbers to give your posts a polished look.[3]

2. ^ It would look like this. Click the little caret to go back to the main text.

3. To do this, go into “Text” mode and put <sup> before the [3] and </sup> after the [3].

Permanent link to this article: https://ecologybits.com/index.php/2016/02/08/stop-using-unlinked-footnotes/

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