Asterisks are cute little symbols. The name is derived from the Greek word aster, or “star,” and literally translates to “little star.”*

But like most cute things (puppies and children, for example), asterisks quickly become annoying when they don’t follow the rules. Such is the case with the asterisk used at the end of the previous paragraph.

When most readers see an asterisk, they correctly expect that it connects the foregoing piece of information with an additional piece farther down the page that is preceded by an asterisk, such as a footnote, source attribution or disclaimer. However, a search of this blog post will yield no such result. The connection was dropped like a cellphone call in a canyon.

We most often see incorrect use of asterisks to ***call attention to a piece of text*** or break up sections of a document. Asterisks are not meaningless doo-dads, decorations or design elements. They have one purpose: to indicate and lead the reader to related information. On second thought: two purposes, as they can also serve as a letter substitute in certain f***-letter words.

When you find yourself tempted to use one or more asterisks, consider the following:

  • Don’t use asterisks to call attention to a piece of text. Use bold or italicized text instead.
  • Don’t use asterisks to break up text or set off new areas of a document. Use a cleaner design element, such as a line or a bullet.
  • Don’t hide the footnote. When using an asterisk correctly, place the corresponding footnote, source attribution or disclaimer on the same page.
  • Do think twice about double or triple asterisks. If you need more than one on a page, a better choice is to use numbered footnotes. If you must use asterisks, use a double asterisk for the second citation and a triple for the third.

In writing for marketing or business communications purposes, even one asterisk should be rare: that’s how to correctly use asterisks.

Need help writing or editing for your website or blog? Call Kim Landry at 484-829-0021 or email [email protected].


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