New Character(s) Challenge - Annotations

hrant's picture

Inspired by a cool new character invented by Nina*, I've started thinking: maybe we can design/use symbols beyond the asterisk and dagger(s) to annotate text? Sure people use numbers, but that's pretty boring isn't it? Plus numbers are easily confusable when they're small. And having two floating digits is ugly (and the reason people use a dagger instead of two asterisks). So the Challenge is to make new symbols that:
- Clearly convey that they're for annotation.
- Look good small and floating.
- Are not confusable with other annotation symbols.

*
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ninastoessinger/4238222291/
http://typophile.com/node/65762

I actually use custom little floating reference thingies* when I handwrite an article for splicing in additional text, but had never thought of putting things like that into fonts.

* BTW, is "annotations" a good name for these?

hhp

nina's picture

Cool thread.

"I actually use custom little floating reference thingies* when I handwrite an article for splicing in additional text"
Me too.

One interesting feature of these symbols vis-à-vis numbers or alphabetics is obviously that they're not inherently sequential. So while numbers seem more practical in situations where you have lots of annotations/footnotes/etc., I would imagine that in more literary texts, and/or ones that use fewer notes (and no endnotes that are all lumped together!), a more graphical solution would certainly be a very nice option.

One question is if a bit of intuitively «readable» «sequentialness» would still be desirable for annotation symbols, for example by means of repeating elements that could increase in number (lines, points…), or elements that get larger etc. But the fewer annotations you need (and the more easily the bits they refer to can be found), the less that's important.

So, do we make this into a Type Battle of sorts? :)

hrant's picture

The asterisk and dagger had a kid, and named it Dagterisk.

hhp

riccard0's picture

Actually, I was thinking along similar lines, prompted by the same thread.
But I was too lazy and too slow a typer to start a new thread (and also not sure of the possible interest, but on this I was mistaken, it seems :-).
Anyway, some random thoughts:
* Typesetting text, I often need some sort of reference symbol which is distinct from the figures used for endnotes/footnotes.
* Usually I use the asterisk, which is fine for one, not so good for two (**), simply unacceptable for three ("What's that, a censored swearword?").
* The dagger, especially in sans serif typefaces, could be (conf)used to indicate a cross, meaning the (date of) death of a person (making especially unsuitable its use in conjunction with proper names).
* I often end up using (oh, the horror!) the readily available degree sign (°).
* If designers would want to insert these newly devised glyphs in their fonts, which codepoints should they use?

That said, I think the sketch I made in the other thread has potential.

I'm just not sure if I will call it Daggerism (loaning from asterism) or Daggerisk, following Altaira's suggestion ;-)

hrant's picture

> making especially unsuitable its use in conjunction with proper names

Not to mention non-Christians. (BTW, I once saw a floating
crescent to indicate the year of death of a Muslim person.)

hhp

nina's picture

Related to the dagger ↔ cross thing: http://typophile.com/node/57592

Michael Hernan's picture

The key I think is making each of the items look really different from each other.
I was thinking about this at one point, but gave up.
The annotation mark which doesn't have a unicode and gets overlooked is the double bar
This is my favourite glyph! .. after my new favorite character the 'thin'.

/m

Michael Hernan's picture

'heart.sups' is my starter...

Its a bit wide and dark maybe it needs to be broken or stabbed with the dagger?

John Hudson's picture

Numbers, among other benefits, come with built-in ordering, unlike other systems of symbols, which require establishment not only of shapes but also of conventional ordering. Sorry, Hrant, but I disagree that numbers are ‘easily confusable when they’re small’: if they're easily confuseable, then they're poorly designed, and the same could be true of virtually any small, superscript sign.

In any case, footnotes are for children. Grown ups use end notes. :)

riccard0's picture

@ John Hudson: I agree that numbers have their fundamental function and are a superior solution for longer series of notes.
But there are instances in which some other kind of symbol would come handy instead or alongside them.
Just look at the success of the asterisk.

@ userone: That heart sure is cute! And I can think at several appropriate uses. The double bar, I think is too similar to a roman two.

nina's picture

Of course John – like I said up there, I think numbers are unbeatable in contexts where you need many «annotation symbols» that are also undoubtedly sequential. But there are other situations too, like maybe less formal ones, more literary/poetic ones, quainter ones etc., where numbers would feel out of place, and where you don't need «ordering» as much (for example because you only need very few notes). And things like the heart and dagger hint at some nice possibilities of playing with semantics too!

Hey, it's a proposition for the [playful or serious] expansion of typographic possibilities – it's not like we're trying to outlaw numbers. :-)

hrant's picture

John, as others are saying, I would think that if you have a certain number of notes per page/chapter in a work, non-numeric annotation symbols can give a nice flavor without causing functional hassles. I would say this number is between 3 and maybe 7 if it's footnotes, and 3 and maybe 15 if it's endnotes.

BTW, in general I personally prefer footnotes to endnotes - they're faster.

hhp

kentlew's picture

For those who are not aware, there used to be a widely accepted convention for annotation symbols prescribed by Chicago Manual of Style (when there are few notes, or in addition to numerical note references).

The generally accepted sequence (in U.S. publishing, anyway) was/is:
* (asterisk), † (dagger), ‡ (double dagger), § (section mark), ∥ (parallels), # (number sign). When more symbols are required, the suggestion was to use doubles (e.g. ** †† ‡‡ etc.). These were often superscripted.

[Interestingly, the latest edition drops the mention of parallels and number sign -- presumably because the parallels are not commonly available in digital fonts and because this sort of annotation has fallen out of favor.)

IMO, if you need more than five symbols, then really you should be using numbers. But hey, knock yourselves out.

Michael Hernan's picture

I still think there is something to this and lay down the challenge to come up with 4 more to add to Kent's (Chicago MS's) 6 to make a total of 10 annotated markings!

Don McCahill's picture

> In any case, footnotes are for children. Grown ups use end notes. :)

Yes, but wouldn't it be nice if there were both? I get annoyed with scholarly works, where 90% of the notes are reference information, while the other 10% provide additional background information that I find useful. Wouldn't it be great if the background information could be done with footnotes at the base of the page, easily accessible, and the reference information placed in endnotes where the scholars who need it could access it there.

I have seen this system used once (I can't remember where) and think it would be a great addition to scholarly style.

Ray Larabie's picture

How about crossed daggers? Since they look like daggers, readers will probably assume they're for reference.

nina's picture

Great point Don! Need to keep this in mind.

Kent, so I take it this sequence isn't very much in use (and hence generally known) in the US now? FWIW, it is in any case culturally/regionally specific. For German, Forssmann / de Jong's "Detailtypografie" (which is a bit of a typesetting "bible") refers to a slightly different "traditional sequence" – asterisk; 2 asterisks*; dagger; double dagger; section sign; pilcrow; parallels – but adds this is only one possibility. For up to 3 notes they simply recommend asterisks.
* Only used if more than 6 symbols total needed.

I'm not sure such fading conventions should have to be reasons to stop wondering about new/better characters. Like you say, this style of annotation isn't very popular nowadays (I wonder why?), maybe new symbols could be a cool way to breathe fresh life into the idea.

hrant's picture

Don, good idea. And in a work with both footnotes and endnotes the former would pretty much require a set of non-numeric annotation symbols. But I find the Chicago MS recommendations problematic because beyond the double-dagger they're all ugly (and some ambiguous).

hhp

Beauclair's picture

The combined system with foot- and endnotes as mentioned by Don is actually used quite often in academic books. One prominent example which uses asterisk, dagger, double-dagger etc. for footnotes and numbers for endnotes is Ari Rafaeli’s »Book Typography«.

John Hudson's picture

Don: Yes, but wouldn’t it be nice if there were both? I get annoyed with scholarly works, where 90% of the notes are reference information, while the other 10% provide additional background information that I find useful. Wouldn’t it be great if the background information could be done with footnotes at the base of the page, easily accessible, and the reference information placed in endnotes where the scholars who need it could access it there.

When I've seen the notes split between footnotes and endnotes, it is typically the other way round. Citations tend not to take up too much space, so can be put at the bottom of the page; whereas informational notes tend to be longer (sometimes a taking up several pages in their own right). The editorial and design decision needs to be made based on the content and size of the notes.

A lot of books my clients deal with have at least three kinds of annotation to deal with: critical apparatus, citations and commentary.

riccard0's picture

Between endnotes and footnotes, I prefer sidenotes! ;-)

nina's picture

"A lot of books my clients deal with have at least three kinds of annotation to deal with"
Well there you go: numbers, alphabetics, and symbols. :-)

William Berkson's picture

By far the most common way to cite things in academic works now is in the text, with reference to a bibliography. So you get a reference like: (Freud 1900a, p. 56), and in the bibliography you have the details on the book referred to by Freud 1900a. That's assuming you have more than one publication by Freud that year which you want to refer to.

This is so much cleaner than past methods that I don't think they can compete.

Explanatory notes are a different matter, and where to put these depends on the book or article as to what is best.

And yes, side notes can be charming, and are under-used in books. Pull quotes and side bars are common in magazines.

riccard0's picture

Returning to the task at hand, why not borrow from chinese numerals/nautical flags?

kentlew's picture

Riccardo's concept echoes something I was thinking, in terms of making an ordered system that is somewhat intuitive:

 
The higher values get more difficult to distinguish.

I like what Riccardo's example suggests a little better. But I would skip that first "minus" and start with the second for the first order, maybe give it a "plus" form.

quadibloc's picture

I wasn't aware of the use of the number sign/pound sign/octothorpe # for annotation, but the section sign, the paragraph sign, and parallels have already been mentioned here.

I suppose that one could suggest the degree symbol, because it is already present, and, like the asterisk, raised!

But while some of the suggestions for new symbols made here are certainly interesting, I suspect that in practice there would be resistance to any change.

Still, I'd like to make a very modest suggestion, much less original and visually interesting than the ones presented so far, but perhaps more practical. In contexts where a significant number of annotations are present, but superscript numerals would cause confusion (maybe one is footnoting an equation, where they might be confused with raising a number to a power)... perhaps one could simply use raised boxed or circled numerals.

And then there's always raised Greek letters (lowercase).

kentlew's picture

> (maybe one is footnoting an equation, where they might be confused with raising a number to a power)

This is precisely the kind of situation where Chicago prescribes symbols:

"§13.50 Other reference marks. For a table that includes mathematical or chemical equations, where superior letters or numerals might be mistaken for exponents, a series of arbitrary symbols may be used . . . as follows:"

And the recommended sequence of symbols is that which I cited previously.

John Hudson's picture

Bill: This is so much cleaner than past methods that I don’t think they can compete.

Agreed. Most of the scholarly books I've seen recently insert citations in the text, use the bottom of the page for critical apparatus, and end notes for explanatory notes or commentary.

Critical apparatus quite often involves a lot of different reference points on a single page, so numbers are the obvious choice. Which leaves the problem of how to reference explanatory end notes. My idea -- which I doubt is original -- is to use marginal reference numbers.

eliason's picture

This is so much cleaner than past methods that I don’t think they can compete.

I might disagree with that. Is interrupting my paragraph with parenthetical citations really "cleaner"? Maybe this is a case of We Like Best What We Read Most, but I prefer foot- or endnotes (as are still used quite broadly in my field of art history).

In cases where citations and explanatory notes are divided into different systems of notation, how does one handle an explanatory note that also requires a citation, or a citation that also requires an explanatory note (both of which are likely to appear frequently in what I read and write)?

As for the new character challenge, here's my unserious submission:

hrant's picture

Kent, I likin' it.

> there would be resistance to any change.

That's only normal. Nonetheless trying is normal too!

> This is so much cleaner than past methods
> that I don’t think they can compete.

Nah, I'm with Craig. You should give the reader a choice of ignoring the side-trip; putting anything more than a non-linguistic symbol ruins that.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

>Is interrupting my paragraph with parenthetical citations really “cleaner”?

Yes, here's why. Citations this way are clearly citations, and being in parentheses can be skipped by the eye. When you have everything in foot or end notes, you don't know whether they are explanatory or simply citations, so you annoyingly have to go hunting to see whether it's something significant to your interests.

Where explanatory notes go should depend on the work, and the author's notion of their function, which he or she should be clear about. Then it may make sense to have them as end notes, side notes, or footnotes.

I think the separation of citations and explanatory notes has been a real advance in layout of scholarly works.

You could also do citations as numbered end notes, and explanations as side or foot notes. The most important thing I think is the separation of the two, whatever device you use.

quadibloc's picture

As for the new character challenge, here’s my unserious submission:

It's missing a fifth symbol: a set of three wavy lines next to each other.

Ah, I see my memory was wrong. That would have been true if the triangle was instead a five-pointed star, and the X was a plus sign.

nina's picture

[This belongs under William Berkson's post.]

"and being in parentheses can be skipped by the eye"

Not really all that easy to skip'em though. You have to spot the opening parenthesis, then decide it's a citation and not a parenthesized statement that you're actually supposed to read inline with the text*, and then find the closing parenthesis. Seems to make for a lot of stop-and-go while reading.
* To help this distinction I've previously used all small caps with small caps parentheses for the citations – makes the skippin' a little easier, but they still seem to stand in the way of smooth text flow.

"When you have foot or end notes, you don’t know whether they are explanatory or simply citations, so you annoyingly have to go hunting to see whether it’s something significant to your interests."

Which is exactly why it'd be cool to have distinctive markers for the two. That's smart typography if you ask me (and not really that hard to "learn").

Speaking of smart, I DIG Riccardo's Chinese-influenced ones!

hrant's picture

{Will you two stop editing -and thereby sending down- your posts?! :-}

Kent, I propose taking the system you show above and limiting each star to one of three symbols: 3, 4 and 5* spokes. With two symbols per mark you have 3^2 = 9 choices, which seems pretty decent.

* A 6 might be too hard to quickly tell apart from the 5.

So it would progress something like this:

3
3

3
4

3
5

4
3

4
4

4
5

5
3

5
4

5
5

However I would propose that a given page not go sequentially through that list, but instead exclude parts as needed. For example a page could exclude one of the three symbols if it only happens to need 4 annotations; a page that only needs three could get by with one symbol per mark; etc.

--

> I think the separation of citations and explanatory notes
> has been a real advance in layout of scholarly works.

Sure, but interjecting parenthetical text is brutish.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

>Not really all that easy to skip’em though.

Yes it is, compared to having to go hunting at the back of the book to see whether or not you want to read the note.

Ideally, you keep the form of the citation short, so you do see the opening and closing parens and the number, clearly signaling a citation. I agree that it can help to use small caps too. Practically every scholarly journal I have seen for the past 40 years uses this format for citations, and most books. What can you suggest that's better?

The book I am finishing writing is littered with references to Bible and Talmud, and I'm doing all citations in small cap abbreviations, followed by chapter and verse, or Talmudic page. So these are in parens, the span of seven or eight characters. And there are no foot notes, end notes or side notes, though there are introductory notes and appendices.

So I'm not stuck on the reference-in-parens style, but I am totally convinced that if you have a lot of citations, they shouldn't be mixed with explanatory notes.

I think this is a matter of trying to make it easy and efficient for the reader to navigate, and both author and designer should be thinking about how to do that.

hrant's picture

> compared to having to go hunting at the back of the book
> to see whether or not you want to read the note.

1) I thought we were talking about citations.
2) Exactly - footnotes!

> What can you suggest that’s better?

I thought it's been clearly stated:
- Numeric annotations for endnotes (long stuff).
- Symbolic annotations for footnotes (one-liners/citations).

And citations could be repeated/compiled at the end.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

>I thought it was stated:
- Numeric annotations for endnotes.
- Symbolic annotations for footnotes.

Oh sorry, I didn't get it.

The advantage of the in line version is a. you have it and you're done, and it's easily skippable; b. it is space saving: if you have citations at the end, you can have a citation each line, so you eat up pages, or you have to reset with columns.

But there's a separate problem with foot notes, which is that they are usually very ugly and distracting, compared to side or end notes. I think they should be used very sparingly, if at all, and there shouldn't be more than two per page. Otherwise it gets *really* ugly.

I like all the little dingbats, but I just don't see the need for more than a few foot notes, ever.

I can see the use of the little dingbats if you have a list of members of an organization and want to distinguish various statuses, such as founder, member of the board, eastern division, etc, something like that might be useful.

hrant's picture

> you have it and you’re done

Is it that big a deal to go down [an average of] half a page?

> it’s easily skippable

I don't agree. People read what's in front of them.

> foot notes ... are usually very ugly and distracting

To me parenthesized stuff is uglier.

And actually I personally have no aesthetic problem with footnotes; I think the only people who mind are Modernist book typographers, who don't want the "sanctity" of their gray page disrupted... The only trouble I have with them is when they're so long they go across a page!

> I just don’t see the need for more than a few foot notes, ever.

OK, but if you have more than three you're in trouble (and that's assuming you're a fan of daggers - which I myself am not - too crossy).

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Aesthetically, I don't really like the inline citations, especially not when there are a lot of them on the page. Functionally, though, I do think they are the best approach, not least because they make it immediately apparent to the reader where a particular idea is coming from. In books with citations in footnotes or endnotes, I only occasionally bothered to look up citations; I am aware, with the inline citations, of a greater contextuality to my reading. That seems to me a functional editorial benefit, even if typographically I don't like the look of it much.

John Hudson's picture

Bill: I can see the use of the little dingbats if you have a list of members of an organization and want to distinguish various statuses, such as founder, member of the board, eastern division, etc, something like that might be useful.

This reminds me of Maxim's brilliant potted history of Soviet typography in the shortlived ATypI journal Type (Vol.1 No.1 Spring 1997), in which the various apparatchiks are identified only by symbols, e.g. ‘I still remember the rebuff that Kurbatov and I were met with by comrades √ and ‡ (‡ is still alive)....’

riccard0's picture

But there’s a separate problem with foot notes, which is that they are usually very ugly and distracting, compared to side or end notes. I think they should be used very sparingly, if at all, and there shouldn’t be more than two per page. Otherwise it gets *really* ugly.

Have you ever saw something written by David Foster Wallace? ;-)

Nick Job's picture

What about a bit of binary?

William Berkson's picture

John, I agree with you that inline citations are a problem aesthetically. But to me superscript numbers or symbols are also even more distracting and disruptive. Because of their position to me they are like little alarm bells that tell you that you need to stop and look something up.

The cleanest method is where everything is in end notes with no superscript characters in the text. In this method, you have a running head above the end notes indicating which pages the notes relate to. Then before the note itself you have the page number and the phrase which has the associated citation or commentary.

Which approach is best I think depends on the nature of the text. For example, if you have a scholarly history that discusses various other historian's views, then in line citations I think would be appropriate. If you have a narrative history that goes for aesthetically pleasing story telling, then shoving all citations to the end, and keeping the text completely clean would be best.

Footnotes are the worst, because yes, Hrant, it is very disruptive on page after page to look down the page, and then have to go back and hunt down where you were in the text. And I don't think my aesthetic objection is a matter of 'modernism'; I'm not a modernist. It's just ugly.

nina's picture

"The cleanest method is where everything is in end notes with no superscript characters in the text. In this method, you have a running head above the end notes indicating which pages the notes relate to. Then before the note itself you have the page number and the phrase which has the associated citation or commentary."

Super clean yes; but while you're reading the text, you have to guess which section might have a note in the back! Or are you supposed to first read the text, then read all the notes, and then find and re-read the sections of the text that have notes?
I've seen/read such systems a few times, and hated it every time. To me that's a pretty good example of prettiness/«clean-ness» that comes at the expense of usability. I think this can only work (if at all; I've personally never seen it work) in a very narrow range of text genres; for example in scientific texts it might actually be problematic editorially, because in the case of citations/sources, it doesn't make it immediately clear that a given section comes from a different source. That little «alarm bell» isn't just noise; it can also help mark things that aren't to be misread as self-contained truths. Kinda like that asterisk on shop signs that say «50% OFF ON EVERYTHING*».

William Berkson's picture

Nina, as far as visual aesthetics, I think the only thing that is really problematic are foot notes. You can also mess up side notes visually, but if carefully done in an appropriate layout they can work.

The issue of in-line citations VS end notes with superior figures in the text VS end notes with no superior figures to me is mainly an issue of comfort and ease of use for the reader.

On the question of comfort and ease of use in the system with no superior figures, my experience is not the same as yours. I find it obvious when a quotation or factual claim calls for a citation, and if I want it, I'll go look at the end of a book. I'm grateful that there's nothing distracting me from the text and pushing me to look it up. As to explanatory notes, I'll just look at all the end notes before or after I read the text, and see if there is anything I find interesting.

My impression is that the cleanest method is becoming more and more popular, though it is more work in producing the book.

By the way, with electronic texts, you have a lot more options because of the possibility of hypertext links. That's an advantage of electronic texts, along with search-ability.

hrant's picture

Sidenotes are less disruptive than endnotes?!

> I’m grateful that there’s nothing distracting me
> from the text and pushing me to look it up.

?
Parenthesized stuff right in the line doesn't do that?

> the cleanest method is becoming more and more popular

And we know what I for one think about popularity...
Fashion is one thing, function is another.

Hmmm, new term: fanction. When the two are in balance!

hhp

William Berkson's picture

>Parenthesized stuff right in the line doesn’t do that?

No, it doesn't push you because the information is right there, and you don't have to go looking, wondering what it is. If you want actually to read the source cited, then you can go to the bibliography for info.

John Hudson's picture

Sidenotes are less disruptive than endnotes?!

I would think so. Consider: our vision is aligned to horizontal movement, so glancing out to the margin and back in to the text on a horizontal plane, or close to a horizontal plane, is a faster process than looking down to the bottom of the page and back up again. Good marginal notes align to the text to which they refer, and hence can often be implemented without any inline indicators. So they may be both less disruptive to reading and less disruptive to the appearance of the text.

hrant's picture

> it doesn’t push you because the information is right there

I have to concede that point.
But I worry that inline stuff is just too hard to ignore if you want to.

> glancing out to the margin and back .... is a faster process

Good point, I just worry that the temptation to look at the margin note* before its time is too great. As for the aesthetic argument, I think can go either way.

* Exactly because our eyes prefer the horizontal; plus it stands out in the empty margin.

--

Maybe my own reading habits are simply too inquisitive.

BTW, this is exactly the sort of thing that could be tested quite well empirically (unlike reading performance, which is a huge challenge).

hhp

riccard0's picture

Regardless of feet, sides and/or ends, here's the Flower Power/Web 2.0 notational system! ;-)

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