How to Use Asterisks

Asterisks are occasionally seen as difficult, but the rules of how to use them are fairly simple. This is a grammar guide to using an asterisk.

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The asterisk—*—is something that is not commonly seen in fiction writing, it’s much more prevalent in non-fiction, especially advertising and marketing.

Its main use is as a footnote indicator. There are some situations where you would want to provide more information to some of your writing.* This works initially, but if you have more than one footnote in a page, there are multiple sources that can then provide conflicting information.

To differentiate between multiple footnotes without using numerical footnotes, you can just add an extra asterisk each time, but this begins to look messy very quickly. A more reader-friendly way is to use different symbols in a predefined order for each new footnote. The first is the asterisk (*), followed by the dagger (†), the double dagger (‡), the selection mark (§), the parallels (||), and then the number sign or hash (#), and they should be used in that order.

Whilst often lorries* are red†, half of them are also yellow‡.

*Or other heavy goods vehicles.

†Varying in shade and including a range from orange to brown.

‡Or any other colour along the spectrum in the opposite direction to red.

If you are using them, they go after the punctuation except for dashes, which they go before. This use is the same way in which you’ll see asterisks used in advertisement and marketing. They are providing extra information to their original point.

The other main use of an asterisk is to omit something in your text. An asterisk used to be used to redact full words, but that fell out of use and its function has, generally, been replaced by the ellipsis. Where it is still used is in this way, however, is in censoring words, usually swear words or those likely to cause offense.

I f*****g love using asterisks!

This should never be done in fiction. However, it is sometimes suitable to use them if you’re writing non-fiction and you need to quote something containing a word that is inappropriate to quote fully, based on potential audience focus. Some newspapers, for example, will use this technique, while others will print the full quote as is. When deciding, ensure you are consistent and stick to any editorial guidelines that you have.

If you’re writing fiction, you probably won’t come across an asterisk very often. I don’t think I’ve ever used one in my writing, but it is more common in different forms of writing.

*This is why you tend not to see this used in fiction very much. If a piece of information is important enough to be included then there’s a very strong argument that it should be in the main text. It’s not unheard of, however, and in some cases can work very well.

Davina Chime is a Thanet-born hopeless romantic.

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