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Where do we put the superscript footnote number–before or after the punctuation mark?

The MLA Formatting and Style Guide, the APA Formatting and Style Guide, and the Chicago Manual of Style all place the footnote after the punctuation mark (comma, period, colon, semicolon). The only exception is the dash–we put the superscript footnote before the em dash.

Why? I think perhaps because putting the superscript footnote after the punctuation mark looks better. Doing so has become the standard.

Examples:

  • After a period: Research participants were 103 trained customer service call center representatives (9 men and 94 women) all residing in southern California.(Vanguard University)
  • After a quotation mark: The root word “bildung” has a variety of connotations in German, including, “portrait, picture, shaping, and formation.”(Monmouth University)
  • After a comma: Previously in 1905, Breasted published A History of Egypt,which was his new and comprehensive study of Egyptian political and social history. (College of Charleston)
  • After the parenthesis: Breasted also planned to augment his five volumes of the Egyptian historical records with seven new volumes of records of other types (economic, religious, etc.).(College of Charleston)
  • After a colon: The test for the implication of terms is that set out by the majority in BP Refinery (Westernport) Pty Ltd v Shire of Hastings:(New Zealand Law Style Guide)
  • After the semicolon: The study showed that only one-third of the surveyed firms allow their employees to visit social media sites;3 in fact, some of the firms monitor the computer keystrokes of their employees.
  • After the question mark: After all, even if a decision is public and authoritative rather than private and particular, what good does it do to enact a policy and have it reversed quickly by the national majority?(Harvard Law Review)
  • Before the em dash: Sovereignty—which formally guarantees a state’s power to rule without interference over a policymaking domain of its own8—has sometimes been invoked as federalism’s definitional limit. (Harvard Law Review)

Note that there is no space between the footnote and the letter or mark that comes before it.

If the footnote refers to a parenthetical statement–a statement inside a pair of parentheses–then put the superscripted footnote inside the close parenthesis. Example: Scientists examined—over several years1—the fossilized remains of the wooly-wooly yak.2 (These have now been transferred to the Chauan Museum.3) (Purdue University)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
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