Footnotes for Scholarly Tables: General Notes
Scholarly writing often contains a large number of complex tables to present complicated data in the most effective and accessible ways possible. The function and compact format of tables tend to necessitate the use of numerals, measures, symbols and abbreviations, and sometimes a great many notes are needed to explain the details for readers. In certain cases, large clusters of notes are required at the foot of each table, and in order for them to be effective in communicating the vital information they contain, both writers and readers must know how they are usually arranged and what sort of information they tend to contain.
Generally speaking, there are four different kinds of footnotes that can appear, as needed, at the bottom of a table: general notes, source notes, notes on specific parts of the table and probability notes. Table footnotes are often set at table width in a slightly smaller font size than that used in the table itself. When a table is embedded in the body of a document, this font difference helps to separate the notes from the running text beneath them, but even if tables are presented apart from the main text, it is a good idea to include a line or two of space beneath a table’s footnotes and the heading of the next table for a clear layout. Strictly speaking, each note should begin on a new line and end with a full point, but this is often impractical for reasons of space and layout, so shorter notes of a single type can run on separated by semicolons: ‘ANOVA = analysis of variance; CI = confidence interval; ES = effect size.’ Longer notes containing a greater variety of material sometimes run on separated by full stops: ‘Data were collected from 1 May 2013 to 30 April 2014. ANOVA = analysis of variance; CI = confidence interval’ and so on.
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When designing tables there is no need to use any type of note unless that type of explanation or documentation is required, but the different types of notes should always be arranged within a single document in the same order under each table that uses more than one type of note. There is, however, no uniform agreement on what that order should be or exactly what should be contained in each type of note (though probability notes are a little more straightforward than the others), so do check the relevant guidelines before designing your table notes. Whatever order and content you must or wish to use for the four categories, consistency should be observed across all tables in a document, and any information in the footnotes repeated elsewhere in the manuscript should, of course, correspond with precision.
General notes, as their name suggests, apply to the table generally or as a whole and usually appear first of the four types, although source notes can precede them or be included in the general notes. General notes usually begin with the word ‘Note or ‘Notes,’ often in italic font, but bold font or block capitals are also used. The word is then followed by either a full stop or a colon, with both font and punctuation consistent across all tables in a document. No indicator linking the general notes category or the individual notes within it to any part of the table is required. Definitions of abbreviations are often included in the general footnotes, so ‘Data were collected from 1 May 2013 to 30 April 2014. ANOVA = analysis of variance; CI = confidence interval; ES = effect size’ would work as a general note. When abbreviations are defined in a general note in this way, they are usually recorded in alphabetical order just as they are in a list of abbreviations.
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