Superscript note identifiers: Inside or outside punctuation?

June 12, 2014

Alexa asked about the placement of superscripted footnote indicators in relation to punctuation:

Example A: Mackerel are pelagic;10 living near the surface… OR  Mackerel are pelagic10; living near the surface… (i.e. does the ’10’ come after or before the the semicolon?)

Example B:  …vertical magenta stripes on the body.9, 11, 13 OR …vertical magenta stripes on the body9, 11, 13. (i.e. do the note identifiers come before or after the period/full stop?)

As Alexa is in Australia and is writing for an Australian audience, I consulted the Australian Style Manual (6th edition) for guidance.

The Australian Style Manual says this (p209):

Place superscript note identifiers:

  • At the end of a sentence or clause, rather than immediately after the words to which they relate
  • Before all punctuation marks save the end-of-sentence ones
  • Wherever possible, immediately after direct quotations.

Avoid using superscript note identifiers in headings.

My interpretation:

Bullet 2 of the Style Manual‘s guidance is the most relevant one to these examples. Following that guidance, in Example A you’d place the note identifier BEFORE the semicolon (i.e. …pelagic10; …) and in Example B, you’d place the note identifier after the full stop (i.e. …the body.9, 11, 13 ).

I also looked up other style guides. Some of the American style guides give similar advice; others differ.

So my advice to Alexa was to go with the Australian Style Manual’s guidance in this instance as her audience is Australian.


  1. NZ Law Style guide 2nd ed. places footnote numeration in text outside any punctuation.
    Consider also a negative effect of an alternative where accidental superscription of punctuation might otherwise occur .

  2. Hi Rhonda, can I ask what referencing style Alexa was using? On p.209 of the Australian Style Manual it recommends when using the documentary-note system, that ‘only one superscript numeral is used at a reference point, even if more than one source is being referred to there’. I note your Example B uses 3 superscript numerals in the one place – I am currently dealing with a similar document myself, hence my question! Would be interested in your thoughts on this. Cheers.

  3. Good question, Bec. We rarely use footnotes in our docs, so we number each one (in a 500-page doc there might be none or fewer than five). And our footnotes are used for explanatory notes, not sources. If we were using footnotes extensively for sources, then we would likely follow the Australian Style Manual’s guidance. However, our source citations are in text (variation on ‘author date’ OR ‘Ref. #’), with a References list at the end of the doc to match the citations.

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