The No-fail Way to Space Footnotes

Style manuals often require that footnotes be single spaced but have a blank line between them.1

This is true for SBL style if you’re a student.2 It’s also true if you use Turabian.3

You shouldn’t try to create this spacing by entering a new paragraph after each note. You also shouldn’t try to adjust the paragraph formatting for each note.

Instead, the best way to space footnotes is by altering the “Footnote Text” style.

Once you edit the “Footnote Text” style, the formatting you specify will apply to all footnotes in your document, regardless of when you create them.

How You Should Actually Space Footnotes

To edit the “Footnote Text” style takes just a few simple steps.4

First, from the Home tab, expand the Styles panel.

Second, scroll through the list until you see the style titled “Footnote Text.” Click the drop-down button to the right of this style title, and choose “Modify….”

In the “Modify Style” dialog box, choose “Format” in the lower left-hand corner. Then click “Paragraph….”

From here, change the spacing “after” to 10 or 12 points.

If you use 10-point font in your footnotes, use a 10-point space after your footnote paragraphs. If you use 12-point font, use a 12-point space.

Press “OK.”

This will take you back to the “Modify Style” dialog box.

Decide whether you want to use this same style formatting in other documents based on the same Word template.

If so, choose the “New documents based on this template” option at the bottom of the “Modify Style” dialog box. Otherwise, leave the default “Only in this document” selected.

Press “OK” at the bottom of the “Modify Style” dialog box.

One Thing to Watch For

At this point, your document should automatically create and format footnotes with the proper spacing after them.

The only time you should need to give additional attention to footnote spacing is if you have a long footnote with more than one paragraph in it.

In this case, you’ll first want to consider whether the footnote is long enough to make it more helpful for your readers to have any discussion in it in the main text of your document.

If so, you could potentially split up the larger footnote into more than one and use the notes more purely for citations.

If you decide you want a longer, multi-paragraph note, you’ll only want to have additional spacing between that note and a following note. You won’t want additional spacing between the paragraphs within that note.

In Word, however, the “Footnote Text” style and the additional spacing you added to the end of it will apply to each paragraph in your multi-paragraph note.

In this case, you’ll need to remove the extra spacing from all but the final paragraph in the note.

You can do this either by directly modifying the formatting of the particular paragraphs where you need to omit the spacing. Or you can create and apply a different style to the paragraphs that shouldn’t have extra spacing after them.

Conclusion

Whenever you’ve finished a document, you’ll want to proofread it carefully to ensure you’re satisfied with its content and formatting.

But by adjusting the “Footnote Text” style, you’ll radically reduce the amount of time and effort you put into massaging your footnote spacing.

And having gained this back, you can reinvest it into the people and projects that matter most to you.


Tired of fighting with Word? Want to be done with frustrated hours fussing over how to get the formatting you need?

My new guide shows you how to bypass all of this so you can let Word work for you while you focus on your research.

Garrett Thompson (PhD)

For students in any graduate program, mastering the full range of available research tools is crucial for efficient and consistent productivity. Dr. Stark has mastered these tools—the most important of which is Microsoft Word…. Students eager to take their work to the next level would do well to follow Dr. Stark’s in-depth guidance.


  1. Header image provided by Fabien Barral

  2. See the Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, §3.3. 

  3. See Manual for Writers, 9th ed., §16.3.4.1. 

  4. I’m assuming you have a current version of Word via Office 365. These instructions are based on v16.0.12430.20198. They should work on other recent versions as well. But you’ll notice greater differences in the process if you have an older version of Word. 

Do You Make One of These Common Mistakes with Footnote Spacing?

Style manuals often require that footnotes be single spaced but have a blank line between them.1

This is true for SBL style if you’re a student.2 It’s also true if you use Turabian.3

You can insert this blank line a few different ways. Unfortunately, two of the more common ones can have undesirable side effects.

How Not to Space Footnotes

The two ways to space footnotes that might be most apparent are to:

  1. Enter an extra paragraph after each footnote or
  2. Format each footnote paragraph to insert extra space after it.

But each of these methods has downsides. These can cost you additional time if you want to avoid a mess at the bottom of a page.

What’s Wrong with Extra Paragraphs

If you decide to space your footnotes by inserting a new paragraph after each one (e.g., by pressing “Enter”), you can end up with a few different problems.

First, you have to manually enter the new paragraph after each footnote. So if you forget one, it won’t be there.

Second, your extra paragraph can move from after the last footnote on a page to above the first footnote on the next page.

This happens when there’s too much text on the page where the note starts to accommodate the full note and the extra paragraph that follows it. When this happens, you get an extra blank line that shouldn’t be there between the footnote rule and the first footnote on that next page (see below).

Third, Word uses a “continuation rule” whenever a footnote comes over from the bottom of one page to the next. By default, the continuation rule runs the full width of the page rather than just the first few inches.

So if your blank paragraph comes over from one page onto the next, you’ll also see the continuation rule when you shouldn’t. You’ll then get something that looks like this.

Fourth, in order to avoid these issues, you have to pay attention to the spacing after each footnote. As you edit, you may need to manually insert or remove extra paragraphs to avoid the problems they create.

All of this takes time and attention away from much more significant things you could be focusing on instead.

What’s Wrong with Formatting Each Footnote

You’re probably familiar with single or double spacing within a paragraph. But Word also allows you to insert extra space before or after a paragraph.

You can do this from the paragraph formatting dialog box. Footnotes are no exception.

You can even add spacing to all your footnotes at once with this method if you click into a given footnote, select all the footnotes (e.g., Ctrl+A), and then add the appropriate number of points after the footnote paragraphs.

If you space your footnotes using this method, you’ll get a lot fewer problems than you will with entering extra paragraphs.

In particular, Word will know that the extra space “attaches” only to the bottom of a footnote and so won’t allow just an extra blank line to roll over to the top of the footnote section on a following page.

The main downside of adding spacing via the paragraph dialog box is that your extra lines apply only once you’ve formatted each footnote paragraph individually.

In large part, you can avoid this being a problem by formatting your footnote to include extra space after them only in bulk when you think you’re finished editing.

But even then, if you continue editing and insert a new footnote, you’ll need to format that footnote as well.

So this method improves on the first but still requires you to “babysit” your footnotes more than you really need to.

Conclusion

In short, either of these common ways to space footnotes can get you a blank line between notes in a document.

They just require more hassle and cajoling than they’re worth.

Thankfully, there’s a better way to space between notes. This involves editing the style that drives those notes’ formatting in the first place.


Tired of fighting with Word? Want to be done with frustrated hours fussing over how to get the formatting you need?

My new guide shows you how to bypass all of this so you can let Word work for you while you focus on your research.

Garrett Thompson (PhD)

For students in any graduate program, mastering the full range of available research tools is crucial for efficient and consistent productivity. Dr. Stark has mastered these tools—the most important of which is Microsoft Word…. Students eager to take their work to the next level would do well to follow Dr. Stark’s in-depth guidance.


  1. Header image provided by Fabien Barral

  2. See the Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, §3.3. 

  3. See Manual for Writers, 9th ed., §16.3.4.1. 

Change Word Styles to Direct Formatting in 10 Steps

One of the best ways to ensure consistent formatting in a Word document is to use styles.1 But, you might also need to be able to turn these styles into “direct” formatting.

If you apply a style to text, the text will be formatted as the style specifies (e.g., a first-level heading, a block quotation). This helps keep things consistent and avoid forgetting something like applying italics or bold here or there as you’ve done elsewhere.

If you need to change the formatting, just modify the style, and the formatting for all text with that style will update accordingly. There’s no need to update every place the style occurs individually.

So far so good, but making a single document out of many with different style definitions can be a real headache. And styles may not always transfer completely from one computer to another.

Consequently, SBL Press prescribes,

Do not use your word processor’s style option to mark different elements of the text (body text, headings, subheads). (SBL Handbook of Style, §2.1.3)

Other publishers have similar requirements.

If we’re writing for SBL Press or a publisher with similar requirements, does this mean we can’t use styles? Or, if we do use styles, do we consign ourselves to hours more editing work in order to remove them when we’re preparing to send off a typescript?

Fortunately, no. Word styles can be converted to the direct formatting that SBL Press and others want. Here are 10 steps to do just that.21

1. Add two macros to Word.

If your document doesn’t have footnotes (e.g., parenthetical citations), you can skip down below and just do steps 4–6.

If your document has footnotes, you’ll want to start by creating two macros in Word. A “macro” is a small program that runs inside an Office application like Word.

Don’t worry. You don’t need to know anything about writing a macro. Assuming you use Office 365, just open Word, and go to View > Macros > Create to get started.3

Scroll to the bottom of any macro list that comes up. Press Enter or click on a blank line after anything else in the window.

Copy and paste there the following:

Sub UnLinkNotes()
Application.ScreenUpdating = False
Dim nRng As Range, fNote As Footnote, nRef As String
With ActiveDocument
  For Each fNote In .Footnotes
    With fNote
      With .Reference.Characters.First
        .InsertAfter "]"
        .Characters.Last.Font.Superscript = True
        .Collapse wdCollapseStart
        .InsertCrossReference wdRefTypeFootnote, wdFootnoteNumberFormatted, fNote.Index
        nRef = .Characters.First.Fields(1).Result
        .Characters.First.Fields(1).Unlink
        .InsertBefore "["
        .Characters.First.Font.Superscript = True
      End With
      .Range.Cut
    End With
    Set nRng = .Range
    With nRng
      .Collapse wdCollapseEnd
      .End = .End - 1
      If .Characters.Last <> Chr(12) Then .InsertAfter vbCr
      .InsertAfter nRef & " "
      With .Paragraphs.Last.Range
        .Style = "Footnote Text"
        .Words.First.Style = "Footnote Reference"
      End With
      .Collapse wdCollapseEnd
      .Paste
      If .Characters.Last = Chr(12) Then .InsertAfter vbCr
    End With
  Next
  For Each fNote In .Footnotes
    fNote.Delete
  Next
End With
Set nRng = Nothing
Application.ScreenUpdating = True
End Sub

After this, press Enter to go to a new line again. Then, copy and paste the following:

Sub ReLinkNotes()
Dim i As Integer, j As Integer, k As Integer, l As Integer, FtRng As Range
Application.ScreenUpdating = False
With ActiveDocument
  Set FtRng = Selection.Range
  With FtRng
    .Style = "Footnote Text"
    With .Find
      .ClearFormatting
      .Replacement.ClearFormatting
      .Text = "\[([0-9]{1,})\]"
      .Replacement.Text = "\1"
      .Forward = True
      .Wrap = wdFindStop
      .Format = False
      .MatchCase = False
      .MatchWholeWord = False
      .MatchAllWordForms = False
      .MatchSoundsLike = False
      .MatchWildcards = True
      .Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
    End With
    k = .Paragraphs(1).Range.Words(1) - 1
    j = k
    l = ActiveDocument.Footnotes.Count - k
    For i = 1 To .Paragraphs.Count
      If .Paragraphs(i).Range.Words(1) = j + 1 Then
        j = j + 1
      End If
    Next i
  End With
  For i = k + 1 To j
    StatusBar = "Finding Footnote Location: " & i + l
    With .Content.Find
      .Text = "[" & i & "]"
      .Font.Superscript = True
      .MatchWholeWord = True
      .MatchWildcards = False
      .Execute
      If .Found = True Then
        .Parent.Select
        With Selection
          .Delete
          .Footnotes.Add Range:=Selection.Range, Text:=""
        End With
      End If
    End With
  Next i
  With FtRng
    For i = k + 1 To j
      StatusBar = "Transferring Footnote: " & i + l
      With .Paragraphs(1).Range
        .Cut
        With ActiveDocument.Footnotes(i + l).Range
          .Paste
          .Words(1).Delete
          .Characters.Last.Delete
        End With
      End With
    Next i
  On Error Resume Next
  End With
  Set FtRng = Nothing
End With
Application.ScreenUpdating = True
End Sub

Click the save button, and you can close the Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications window.

Congratulations! You just added two macros to Word. One is tilted UnLinkNotes. The other is titled ReLinkNotes.

You only have to do this step once.4 Now when you go to View > Macros, you should see both UnLinkNotes and ReLinkNotes in the macro list.5

2. Save a backup copy of your file.

Just in case something goes wrong, make a backup copy of your document before you run the first macro. That way, you don’t risk losing anything in the unlikely event that something goes awry.

3. Unlink your footnotes.

In order to move Word styles to direct formatting, you’ll need to open the file in WordPad. Unfortunately, WordPad doesn’t support footnotes. So, in order not to lose your footnotes, you need to “unlink” them so that they’re saved as body text that appears in the main page area at the end of your document.6

To do this, open your document, and go to View > Macros. Click the UnLinkNotes macro, and click Run.

Be patient. Depending on how long your document is, how many footnotes you have, and how fast your computer is, unlinking the notes may take some time.

When the screen refreshes and you see “[1]” where the anchor was for your first footnote, the macro should be done.

4. Save your file in RTF.

If it isn’t already, save your file in RTF (“Rich Text Format”). RTF is much like the default DOC(X) format for Word but more basic.

You can do this in Word for Office 365 by going to the File tab > Save a Copy.7 Input your desired file name, and choose where you want to save the file.

From the file type dropdown box, choose to save the file in “Rich Text Format (*.rtf).” Then, click Save.

5. Open and resave your RTF file in WordPad.

Open your RTF file in WordPad, or a similar program. Make some minor change to the file (e.g., adding a space somewhere). Save the file. Delete your change, and save the file again.

This process will get WordPad to overwrite the existing RTF file with all Word’s styles in it. When WordPad overwrites the file, it will change all the formatting to “direct” formatting and reset the style for the whole document to “Normal.”

So, for instance, you won’t have a “Heading 1” style in use any more. But, the formatting for the Heading 1 style will still show up where you had applied that style.

Once you’ve completed this step, you can close WordPad.

6. Open your RTF in Word, and resave it in whatever format you need.

If you need to submit the file in DOC or DOCX format, go ahead and resave it in that format now. To do so, open it in Word, and use the same process as in step 4 above.

When you choose the file format, just choose whatever format besides RTF that you actually need.

7. Check for a stray period, and edit accordingly.

When you ran the UnLinkNotes macro, the final punctuation mark (probably a period) in your conclusion may have gotten moved to after your last footnote. If so, you may see no punctuation at the end of your conclusion and two at the end of your last footnote.

If this has happened, add a period after your conclusion, and delete one of the two after your last footnote.

8. Select your footnotes.

Scroll to the end of the document, and find the “1” that indicates the start of the text of your first footnote.

Use the mouse or keyboard to select the “1” and all the following text in all of your footnotes. That is, at the end of this step, you should have all your footnotes selected at the same time.

9. Relink your footnotes.

Relink your footnotes by going to View > Macros. Click the ReLinkNotes macro, and click Run.

Be patient. Depending on how long your document is, how many footnotes you have, and how fast your computer is, relinking the notes may take some time.

10. Add any needed paragraph formatting to your footnotes.

After the ReLinkNotes macro finishes, your footnotes will all be back in their places and all flush with the left-hand margin.

If you need to add a first-line indentation, add spacing between footnotes, or adjust the line spacing within the notes, you can do that now by selecting all your footnotes and applying the appropriate formatting.

Conclusion

After these steps, you’ll have a document with the only “Normal” style and direct formatting in use throughout. If you need to shift styles to direct formatting in another document, just repeat steps 2–10 above for that document.

By doing so, you’ll get the benefit of formatting consistency by using styles and save yourself a good amount of work if you need to remove those styles as you prepare to submit your typescript. Happy editing!


Tired of fighting with Word? Want to be done with frustrated hours fussing over how to get the formatting you need?

My new guide shows you how to bypass all of this so you can let Word work for you while you focus on your research.

Garrett Thompson (PhD)

For students in any graduate program, mastering the full range of available research tools is crucial for efficient and consistent productivity. Dr. Stark has mastered these tools—the most important of which is Microsoft Word…. Students eager to take their work to the next level would do well to follow Dr. Stark’s in-depth guidance.


  1. Header image provided by NordWood Themes

  2. For pointing me in the right direction when I was initially mulling over this question, I’m very grateful to the MS Office Forums

  3. If you use an earlier version of Word, the way you get to the macros tool may be a bit different. If you have difficulty finding it, try Googling for “how to create a macro in Microsoft Word [your Word year or version].” 

  4. You will need to perform this step once per computer. So, if you start using a new machine, just come back to this post to follow the instructions and find the macro text to copy and paste into Word on your new machine. 

  5. Greg Maxey has worked out a different macro that will also relink footnotes, but this macro may require a bit more preparatory work than the one recommended here. 

  6. If you use Zotero or a similar citation manager, you may want to unlink your citations before going through this process. 

  7. If you use an earlier version of Word and have difficulty saving your file in RTF, try Googling for “how to save a file in RTF in Microsoft Word [your Word year or version].” 

Gadamer on the Führerprinzip

In a note in his Truth and Method, H.-G. Gadamer comments,

The notorious statement, “The party (or the Leader) is always right” is not wrong because it claims that a certain leadership is superior, but because it serves to shield the leadership, by a dictatorial decree, from any criticism that might be true. (389n22)

That is, at least from Gadamer’s viewpoint, the slogan he quotes is not so much a statement of fact, but a statement of what must necessarily be articulated as a statement of fact, despite any possible indications to the contrary.

Cross-file under #whyitsgoodtoreadthefootnotes

Citations in Footnotes in SBL’s Footnote-bibliography Style

The SBL Handbook of Style blog has a helpful post about the placement of citations in the footnote-bibliography, or traditional, style. Of particular interest is the section related to “Bibliographic Information inside Footnotes.”

According to the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.), when presenting a long citation to support material provided in a content or commentary footnote, the citation should typically be presented as its own sentence (§14.38; see also §§14.37, 14.39):

When a note includes a quotation, the source normally follows the terminal punctuation of the quotation. The entire source need not be put in parentheses, which involves changing parentheses to brackets (see 6.101) and creating unnecessary clutter.

Then, the Chicago Manual gives the following note as an example:

1. One estimate of the size of the reading public at this time was that of Sydney Smith: “Readers are fourfold in number compared with what they were before the beginning of the French war.… There are four or five hundred thousand readers more than there were thirty years ago, among the lower orders.” Letters, ed. Nowell C. Smith (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953), 1:341, 343.

This situation is exemplified in the SBL Handbook of Style blog post paragraph “When a quotation or a discussion inside a footnote is followed by a full reference….”

According to the Chicago Manual’s example above, the same format appears to occur when an element from the citation (e.g., the author’s name, “Sidney Smith,” in the example) is not repeated in the citation.

For the SBL Hansbook of Style, however, relocating the author’s name to the body of the sentence within the footnote requires that even an otherwise full footnote be included in parentheses.

Consequently, any parentheses in that footnote would need to shift to square brackets. Thus, SBL style prefers what the Chicago Manual deems “unnecessary clutter”:

Correct: 97. Cyrus H. Gordon argued that brh in Isa 27:1 should be translated “evil,” based on an Arabic cognate (“Near East Seals in Princeton and Philadelphia,” Or 22 [1953]: 243; see also Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook, AnOr 38 [Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1965], 376).

For SBL style, when a given source supports an intra-footnote comment and has previously been cited, then the citation for the intra-footnote comment is given in parentheses. Thus, in the post’s examples:

Correct: It is interesting to note that Richards also seems to anticipate Lakoff and Johnson’s basic definition of metaphor when he writes that metaphor includes “those processes in which we perceive or think of or feel about one thing in terms of another” (Richards, Philosophy of Rhetoric, 116–17).

Correct: 55. Entailments are “rich inferences” or knowledge (“sometimes quite detailed”) that we can infer from conceptual metaphors (Evans and Green, Cognitive Linguistics, 298–99).

By comparison, according to the Chicago Manual (§14.39),

Substantive, or discursive, notes may merely amplify the text and include no sources.… When a source is needed, it is treated as in the example in 14.38 [quoted above] or, if brief and already cited in full, may appear parenthetically…

The Chicago Manual then gives the following example note:

1. Ernst Cassirer takes important notice of this in Language and Myth (59–62) and offers a searching analysis of man’s regard for things on which his power of inspirited action may crucially depend.

These comments in the Chicago Manual could suggest that (a) notes of this type should have only page numbers included in parentheses and (b) other information necessary to the citation would need to be included in the prose of the footnote sentence itself.

So, for users of SBL style, the blog discussion helpfully clarifies how that style prefers to handle citations for content included within footnotes.

Full-height Footnote Numbers in Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word ties footnote anchors in the main text and footnote numbers at the start of footnotes to the same style. Consequently, it’s difficult to get full-height footnote numbers followed by a period (cf. Chicago Manual of Style, SBL Handbook of style).

The process for getting this result discussed at Word MVPs does not seem to work in Word v16. But Word’s InsertFootnoteNow function can be intercepted to add the following macro commands to produce this result:

ActiveDocument.Footnotes.Add Range:=Selection.Range
With Selection
.Paragraphs(1).Range.Font.Reset
.Paragraphs(1).Range.Characters(2) = ""
.InsertAfter ". "
.Collapse wdCollapseEnd
End With

Unfortunately, it doesn’t immediately seem feasible to intercept Zotero’s insert citation macro, and that macro doesn’t appear to be tied to this particular function in Word. So, an update to what Word runs for the InsertFootnoteNow command won’t be triggered by Zotero’s InsertCitation macro. If anyone has suggestions about how to do so, however, those are certainly welcome.


Tired of fighting with Word? Want to be done with frustrated hours fussing over how to get the formatting you need?

My new guide shows you how to bypass all of this so you can let Word work for you while you focus on your research.

Garrett Thompson (PhD)

For students in any graduate program, mastering the full range of available research tools is crucial for efficient and consistent productivity. Dr. Stark has mastered these tools—the most important of which is Microsoft Word…. Students eager to take their work to the next level would do well to follow Dr. Stark’s in-depth guidance.