snailboat has begun writing footnotes for explaining notation. This is a good idea, but it adds clutter to answers.

Another way to { do | *be doing } it occured to me.

Clicking on "*be doing" it can take the user to some FAQ text, and the tooltip help explains it inline when you hover the mouse pointer over it.

The downside is the cumbersome markup:

<a href="http://example.com" title="the * notation means that this choice is ungrammatical">*be doing</a>
  • Wish I'd known that before! The stock "Markdown Help" here say "we only support a very strict subset of HTML" and refers you this this. Grr. Dec 3, 2013 at 23:10
  • @StoneyB That documentation does confirm that <a> is allowed, and that the title attribute is allowed on <a>.
    – Kaz
    Dec 3, 2013 at 23:15
  • It's not a recent thing for me. However, your answer is the first time I've ever added a footnote to someone else's answer. I did so because I saw a disagreement in comments over what the symbols meant, and you had made it clear what you meant in the comments. You can, of course, remove my footnote and format your answer how you'd like! :-)
    – user230
    Dec 4, 2013 at 6:47
  • @snailboat By the way, I didn't intend to disparage what you're doing as being clutter as such. Footnotes are great. I'm thinking of the same one being repeated over and over in numerous answers, that is all.
    – Kaz
    Dec 4, 2013 at 7:13
  • By the way, you can do the same thing with Markdown syntax rather than HTML. Try typing: [*be doing](http://example.com "the * notation means that this choice is ungrammatical")
    – user230
    Dec 6, 2013 at 21:18
  • @snailboat I had experimented with this unsuccessfully; but lo and behold, you hit upon the right syntax to make it happen. I tried adding material between the square brackets and parentheses, but never tried it quoted.
    – Kaz
    Dec 6, 2013 at 22:01

3 Answers 3


Clever proposal, but the downside to the idea proposed here is that I might be inclined to click on a link, rather that simply hover over it.

Moreover, I don't see these footnotes as particularly ‘cluttering.’

One alternative way one could include footnotes and perhaps make them less distracting is by using the <sub> HTML tag.

That <sub> HTML tag would make the footnote appear smaller, like this.

  • I like that idea! Makes perfect sense for footnotes :) +1!
    – WendiKidd
    Dec 4, 2013 at 2:35
  • What I was thinking of that I called "clutter" is not the effect of single footnote, but the combined effect of repeating the same one in numerous answers. This is not how footnotes are in papers and books.
    – Kaz
    Dec 4, 2013 at 6:09
  • @Kaz - But this is neither a paper nor a book.
    – J.R. Mod
    Dec 4, 2013 at 12:08

We've had discussions in the past about adding footnotes to answers. Quite a few of our users do it. I think they're quite useful, especially on a learner's site. (I don't even always know all of the symbols! :)). I wouldn't advise anyone to not leave the footnotes; I like them and don't really see anything wrong with them.

Your suggestion also has merit, though I think that tooltips might not be the most intuitive (I would never look for a tooltip to explain something to me in an answer). However adding links to more information is a great idea. Though of course SE answers should always contain all the information necessary to answer the question, I've always thought supplementing with relevant links was a good idea. So I definitely endorse that!

What do others think?

  • (Though I misleadingly used "example.com", the idea is that the the link would be to some internal material, rather than an external site. Sorry.)
    – Kaz
    Dec 3, 2013 at 22:59

I started adding footnotes early this year when a user complained that "[s]ymbols which are not defined anywhere mean absolutely nothing". I personally thought it would be helpful for a couple reasons:

  1. These symbols are used with different meanings by different people or in different contexts. For example, a star might mean "not a sentence of Standard English", but it could also mean simply "ungrammatical" or "unacceptable".

  2. New users might be unfamiliar with the notation. Ideally, I'd like my answers to be understandable on their own.

I prefer making it clear what I mean by a symbol in a given context, so I rarely link to the meta post.

I don't think footnotes should be required, and I think you should be able to format your answers how you like. But I'd like to continue using footnotes the way I have for most of the last year, personally.

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