While reading a book or article, have you ever noticed little numbers placed at the ends of some sentences?
These numbers typically appear as superscripts and match up with numerals at the bottom of the page, which are followed by further, necessary, and supplemental information. This material can occasionally be found in the form of citations, but it can also be further notes (footnotes vs endnote) on the subject.
How Do Footnotes Work?
Footnotes are notes that are included at the bottom of a page and are utilized to cite specific passages of text (generally using superscript numbers). Footnotes are used by authors for a variety of things, such as citations, background information, parenthetical information, outside sources, copyright clearances, and more.
You might be asking why to utilize footnotes now that you know what they are. The truth is that lengthy explanations might be tiresome for readers to read through (especially when they occur in the middle of a paper). Although it is vital to include this information, doing so in the main text may cause the writing to become disjointed.
Imagine if the complete citation had to be typed out at the end of the sentence every time an author wanted to supply one (Anthony Grafton, The Footnote: A Curious History [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000] 221). Reading would become much more tiresome as books grew longer. Because they allow authors to offer necessary information without interfering with the flow of ideas, footnotes are incredibly helpful.
Footnotes are a terrific way to share information without cluttering up the text, but it’s vital to remember that some style manuals have guidelines about when they can be used. We’ll discuss that soon.
Endnotes vs. Footnotes
Endnotes are another tool that authors can employ to prevent adding unnecessary information to their text. Both have comparable functions; the primary distinction is where they are placed in your text. Here’s a closer look at how endnotes and footnotes both function.
Do I Use Endnotes or Footnotes?
- Authors should think about three key aspects before determining whether to use endnotes or footnotes:
- The adopted style manual (as some require either footnotes or endnotes)
- The number of notes that are present (as having too many footnotes on each page can be distracting)
- Which choice is most practical for the reader
How to Cite in Footnotes
If this is your first footnote, start with “1.” To create a footnote citation, number the section of your text that needs to be cited. Include this number in the citation at the bottom of the page. Readers are informed that they can locate the source by looking for the accompanying footnote when they see the number in the text.
Here is an illustration of a quote that uses in-text citations rather than footnotes.
Within Text Citations
The footnote on the historian’s page “reassures like the high whine of the dentist’s drill” (The Footnote: A Curious History [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press], 1999. pg. 1).
The quiet rumbling of the footnote on the historian’s page reassures, similar to the high whine of the dentist’s drill. 1
[Continued in text]
The page’s bottom:
- The Footnote: A Curious History, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1999, page 1.
Footnotes in Essays: How to Use Them
The style manual you’re using will determine the exact structure of your footnote. Here are a few of the most popular style manuals for academic writing together with their respective footnote guidelines.
4.1 Style Manuals
The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) is the major style manual that employs footnotes the most. However, other style manuals do occasionally include footnotes as well. The key distinction is that although the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA) frequently utilize footnotes to provide additional information, CMS employs them for citation reasons only.
Association for Modern Languages (MLA)
Long footnotes or endnotes are discouraged by MLA style; however, the style manual allows allow their usage when pointing readers to additional relevant information on a relevant topic.
The manual advises placing superscript numbers outside of any potential punctuation in the text (i.e., after a period if the note is at the end of a sentence and after a comma if the note is at the end of a clause). The superscript numbers must come before the dashes as an exception to this rule.
- When a footnote must be placed at the end of a clause,1 add the number after the comma.
- When a footnote must be placed at the end of a sentence, add the number after the period.2
- Numbers denoting footnotes should always appear after punctuation, except for one piece of punctuation3—the dash.
American Psychological Association (APA)
Like MLA, APA advises against using footnotes unless they are necessary. Even so, the book advises against using footnotes other than to indicate copyright clearances and provide content notes (such as short, supplemental information on the text or pointing readers to more information). In both APA and MLA, the guidelines for where to place in-text numbers are the same.
The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)
The use of footnotes is the most prevalent of the three main style guides discussed here. CMS supports a citation style in which footnotes or endnotes are used, but it also permits the author-date method of in-text referencing (i.e., supplying the author’s name and the date of publication in parentheses at the end of the phrase, clause, or sentence that mentions the work). Bibliographies are also necessary for both situations. The professor, magazine, or publisher will frequently determine whether to utilize footnotes or the author-date method.
Technical Guide to Using Footnotes
You must first choose the most acceptable and logical location for your footnotes in the text before you can use them in your book, essay, or article. Depending on the style manual you’ve chosen, add numbers. Make sure to do it right after the phrase, clause, or sentence that the associated footnote relates to.
The majority of online writing systems (like Microsoft Word and Google Docs) have simple footnote-inserting features. Here are detailed instructions on how to use footnotes in both of these programs.
How to Add Footnotes in Microsoft Word
Here’s how to use footnotes in Microsoft Word 2021:
- Click on the place in the text where you want the first footnote to appear.
- Under the References tab, you’ll see the following symbol: AB.1. Beneath this symbol is a button with the words, “Insert Footnote.” Click it to create your first footnote.
- After you click that button, two numbers should appear: one number should appear in the main text, and the corresponding number should appear at the bottom of the page.
- Write your citation or additional information next to the number that appears in the footer. Format the information according to the rules of your style guide.
- You can easily return to your place in the text by clicking the number at the beginning of the footnote.
Congrats! You’ve created your first footnote. You can also adjust the footnote settings (like the numbering) by clicking the arrow beside the Footnotes group. It’s that easy!
How to Add Footnotes in Google Docs
Here’s how to use footnotes on Google Docs:
Click on the place in the text where you want the first footnote to appear.
Under the Insert tab, click on “Footnotes.”
After you click that button, two numbers should appear: one number should appear in the main text, and the corresponding number should appear at the bottom of the page.
Write your citation or additional information next to the number that appears in the footer. Format the information according to the rules of your style guide.
All you have to do to create footnotes is click a button—it couldn’t be easier!