Table Footnotes: Source, Specific and Probability Notes
Technically speaking, there are four different kinds of footnotes that appear at the bottom of the tables so frequently used to present data in academic and especially scientific writing. The general notes are usually the first category under any given table and tend to apply to the table as a whole. I have commented on them in a separate posting. The other three kinds of table footnotes are source notes, notes on specific parts of a table and probability notes. A little practical advice on their uses and contents may also prove helpful to scholarly readers and writers.
Source notes can be included among the general notes, especially if they are short, but they often constitute a separate category and can either follow or precede the general notes. They usually open with the word ‘Source’ or ‘Sources,’ which is often set in italic font, although bold font or block capitals are sometimes used. The word is followed by either a full stop or a colon, with the punctuation matching that following the word ‘Note’ or ‘Notes’ that precedes the general notes if there are any. Font and punctuation should remain consistent across all tables included in a document. Source notes provide references for any material in the table that has been borrowed from another work. Source references can be provided in shortened forms via whatever documentation method or style is used in the rest of the document (parenthetical, for instance, or numerical) as long as each source used in the table is included in the list of references or bibliography. Otherwise, full bibliographical references should be provided in the source footnotes.
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Notes on specific parts of tables usually follow general and source notes and are like true footnotes in that they are keyed to specific words, symbols and numbers within the table. To avoid confusion, the system of indicators used in a table must be separate and different from that used for any footnotes or endnotes that appear in the main body of a document, but the same system should be used (wholly or partially as relevant) in all tables requiring notes on specific parts. Arabic numerals can therefore be used if numbered notes are not used elsewhere in the document, but if there are already numbered notes in the main text, it is best if the table notes take another form, such as superscript lowercase letters or a collection of specific characters. It is essential that these characters cannot be confused with other characters and symbols in the table(s), however, and the asterisk (*) should definitely not be used if probability notes are also required. A table should be read across the rows from top left to bottom right when providing indicators within the table and arranging the specific notes at the bottom. Such notes can be attached to any element of a table requiring explanation except the main table heading (footnotes are usually discouraged on all main headings) and probability and significance levels.
Probability notes follow all other table footnote categories. Like notes on specific parts of a table, they use a system of indicators, but one that specifies p values via the number of asterisks attached to a numeral and is generally explained with a note of this kind: ‘*p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.’ Note that the ‘p’ is usually lowercase and set in italic font (though that font may not be retained in this posting), zeroes are normally omitted before the decimal point and spaces generally appear around the ‘<’ symbol, though all three of these details can vary as long as consistency is maintained for each element throughout a document. As with the notes on specific parts of a table, probability notes should be added by reading along the rows of a table from left to right and top to bottom, and whatever system and precise formats are applied in one table should also be used in all other relevant tables included in the manuscript.
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