by Jack Lyon
As useful as they are, Microsoft Word’s footnotes and endnotes are amazingly easy to mess up. Let’s look at some ways that can happen — and how to fix the problems.
First, we need to open a document that has footnotes — or make one. Then, to really see what’s going on, we’ll do this:
- Click “View” and then “Draft.”
2. Click “References” and then “Show Notes.”
That should take you into Word’s “Notes Pane,” which should look something like this:
Deleted Reference Numbers
The superscript numbers in front of each note are called reference numbers. By default, they’re formatted with a character style — either Footnote Reference or Endnote Reference, which you can modify if necessary. What’s interesting about these numbers is that it’s possible to delete them, so the notes look like this:
Deleting them, however, is an extraordinarily bad idea. Those numbers may look simple, but under the hood they have a lot going on. The number itself is automatically generated based on the reference number in the text itself. (If you create footnote number 9 in your document, the note itself will start with the number 9. If you delete footnote number 9 in your document, the note and its number will be deleted.) The number also signals the start of a new note, and if it’s gone, document corruption is probably not far behind.
You can often tell if a reference number is missing by looking at the other note numbers. If they’re numbered like this, you know something’s wrong:
That’s actually a fairly easy problem to fix: just copy the reference number from one of the other notes and paste it in front of the note that’s missing its number. For example, if you copy the number for note 3 and paste it in front of the numberless note 2, you’ll actually get a 2 in front of the note. Microsoft Word is smart enough to know what the number should be.
Usually, the reason a number is missing is because the author has directly deleted the entire text of the note, like this:
Why Microsoft hasn’t prevented this is beyond me. If the author had deleted the note number up in the main document text, there wouldn’t be a problem.
Typed-In Reference Numbers
Sometimes, in an effort to make notes look “pretty” or meet a certain style, authors will format reference numbers as regular text rather than superscript, then type a period after them. There’s really nothing wrong with that, other than introducing extraneous periods when importing the file into a typesetting program. But some authors actually delete the numbers and type in new ones by hand. You can tell when that has been done by putting your cursor in front of a double-digit note number and pressing the right cursor key. If your cursor moves past the entire number, the number has been automatically generated. But if your cursor moves forward only one digit, the number has been hand-typed.
Again, you could fix the problem by copying an automatic number and pasting it over the hand-typed number, but what if all of the numbers have been hand-typed? Where will you get an automatic number to copy? Simple: just insert a new footnote and copy the number from that. After you’ve finished pasting, delete the extra note (up in the text, remember).
If you have lots of these numbers, you probably won’t want to fix them by hand, so here’s an easier way:
- Select all of the notes in the notes pane.
- Copy the notes.
- Paste the notes at the end of the document.
- Using Word’s Find and Replace feature, search for ^f (the code for footnotes) or ^e (the code for endnotes) and replace all of the existing note numbers with a superscript 1. (That will also delete all of the automatic notes in the document.)
- Use the “Text to Notes” feature of my trusty NoteStripper add-in to turn the text notes into automatically numbering ones.
“Special” Carriage Returns
Sometimes when editing notes, you’ll try to make a deletion and get the message that “This is not a valid action for footnotes”:
What that cryptic message should say is “You can’t delete the carriage return that ends a footnote.” The carriage return that marks the end of a note isn’t a regular return; it’s a special return, and you can’t delete it — Word won’t let you. So what often happens is that authors will delete the note text and its reference number, leaving the carriage return behind. But there is a way to get rid of that return: delete its note number up in the main text of the document. If you can’t tell which note number that is, copy the number of a different note and paste it in front of the note’s carriage return. That will give the note a proper number, and you can then delete the note up in the main text. If you have lots of these extraneous carriage returns, you can get rid of them with a macro, as described in “Lyonizing Word: Deleting Extraneous Carriage Returns in Footnotes and Endnotes.”
Microsoft, Are You Listening?
We wouldn’t have such problems with notes if Microsoft would implement just a few changes:
- Make it possible to delete a note by selecting the entire note, including the note reference number, the note text, and the “special” carriage return at the end of the note, and then pressing the Delete or Backspace key (which should also remove the note number from the main text). That would keep authors from leaving behind misnumbered notes and extraneous carriage returns.
- Provide additional numbering options for the reference numbers in front of the note text, in particular the option to use full-sized numbers followed by a period. That would keep authors from typing in numbers and periods by hand (maybe).
- When trying to delete the reference number or carriage return, provide a message that says “Select the entire note before deleting” or “To remove a note, delete the note number in the main text of your document.”
These changes would do a lot to prevent problems caused by authors who don’t know how to properly use Word’s notes. You can help by letting Microsoft know about these needed changes. Give your feedback at Microsoft’s “Welcome to Word’s Suggestion Box!”
What about you? Have you seen other odd problems with Word’s notes? If so, how have you solved them?
Jack Lyon (firstname.lastname@example.org) owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.