Footnotes are curious things. They occupy a no-man’s-land outside of the main flow of an article, but they carry content that can substantially alter the meaning.
I have mixed feelings about footnotes. The editor in me wants to say that if something is unimportant enough to be relegated to a footnote, then it probably shouldn’t be included at all. The writer in me wants to keep all those asides, qualifications, and expansions in the main text. Footnotes are the compromise. The writer gets their supplementary material, and the editor get their tight concise paragraphs.
Both the writer and the editor in me agree that even if footnotes are kept, they should be brief. I have none-too-fond memories of studying Victorian literature at college and having to contend with footnotes that were so long they occupied half the page and even burst out onto the next page, sometimes with footnotes of their own. Those sort of footnotes should be avoided.
So, if we’re agreed that footnotes should brief asides to the main text, how do we go about including them in our WordPress articles.
There are various plugins for adding footnotes to WordPress, but the one I have enjoyed using most is Civil Footnotes, which creates footnotes that are intended to resemble those on John Gruber’s Daring Fireball. Civil Footnotes provides an easy syntax for adding footnotes within the text of articles. Simply wrap your footnotes in ((double parentheses)), and the plugin will take care of the rest.
If you’re a reader of sites like Six Colors, MacStories, and others, you’ll have come across a different sort of footnote — in fact they probably should be called in-line notes, but they do the same job as footnotes. These notes appear as a small icon next to the text they refer to that, when clicked or tapped, pop out a bubble that contains the footnote.
These footnotes are created using the Bigfoot JQuery plugin. It’s not very difficult to add this JQuery library to your WordPress theme directly, and there are comprehensive instructions on the site, but if you’d rather not tangle with that, there is a WordPress plugin. Unfortunately, the plugin hasn’t been updated for quite a while, and I’d ordinarily not recommend an outdated plugin, but it works reasonably well on modern versions of WordPress.
Footnotes aren’t appropriate for all sites, but if you ever find the editor and the writer parts of your blogging personality at war over what you should include or delete, the occasional footnote can help keep the peace.