Not in a Note

Just because you can (place something in a note) doesn’t mean you should. Elements that should not appear within a footnote (even when one’s word-processing software allows it) include but are not limited to the following.

  1. Block quotations. Contra CMS §14.33, SBL Press prefers not to set a long quotation within a note as a block quote. In addition to using a line space before and after a block quotation and indenting the block left and right, SBL Press formats a block quote in a font size smaller than the surrounding text. Applying all these stylistic characteristics to a block quote within a note would result in wasted space and a small font size for the block text—all for no particular reason. SBL Press prefers to run all quotations of any length into the surrounding text, setting the quotation off with quotations marks.
  1. Tables. Thanks to the capabilities of the most widely used word-processing program, tables have become a staple of academic publishing even in the humanities. Nevertheless, a footnote is not an appropriate place for a table. We discourage placing a table within a note primarily for aesthetic reasons: a table within a note will detract from the main text visually, shifting the focus to what should be secondary; even worse, a table of more than a few rows will probably run onto the following page, thus minimizing whatever benefits an author hopes to gain by presenting information in a tabular format.
  1. Figures. If a photograph, diagram, line drawing, or other type of figure is important enough to include at all, it should be incorporated into the main text, not placed within a footnote. Why? Many notes will not have adequate space to display a figure at a size large enough for readers to see the figure well; unlike a table, a figure cannot run across consecutive pages, so a figure within a footnote will disrupt page flow; and the most widely used page-layout software is not designed to handle figures within footnotes, so your publisher will probably have no choice but to decline a request to include any sort of figure within a note.

Of course, none of these issues is a matter of right or wrong; they are simply SBL Press preferences—which many other publishers are likely to share. As always, an author should check with her publisher about such matters before finishing and submitting a manuscript. The mere fact that a word processor enables an author to put material into a footnote does not mean that the author should do so—at least not without first checking with the publisher.

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