If you’ve ever read a textbook or an academic paper, chances are you’ve come across footnotes. Footnotes exist to represent either citations or additional pieces of information. How you use footnotes in your essay will depend on which essay style you are using. This short guide will act as a point of reference for planning footnotes in your assignment.

Do Use Footnotes to Replace Intext Citations

If you are writing your paper according to the Chicago or Turabian style guide, you will be required to used footnotes in place of intext citations. If you are citing a source for the first time, write your footnotes according to this format: author’s name, the title of the publication in italics, publication information, the date of the article’s publication, and page number or numbers. If you have used the source earlier in the essay, your footnotes should simply include the author’s last name, the publication title in italics, and the date of publication. Your paper’s footnotes should be found at the end of each page.

Don’t Confuse Footnotes with Endnotes

Unlike footnotes, endnotes provide additional information on data within the text. Endnotes are best used when background information is needed in a passage but adding it would disrupt the flow of the essay. If you can’t decide whether a footnote or an endnote is needed, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the style guide I am working with allow for footnotes, endnotes, or both?
  • How many footnotes or endnotes have I previously used in the passage? Using too many footnotes/endnotes can look messy and be distracting to your readers.
  • Which would be most helpful to the reader?
  • Is my aim to add background information or to include a citation without breaking up the text?

Do Follow the Style Guide Carefully

If you are using the MLA style guide, be cautious when using footnotes in your writing. The MLA style guide does not allow for the use of footnotes except when used to direct readers to other necessary sources of information. Make sure any superscripts are placed after punctuation like in the examples below:

  • Dr. Mark Sadler’s research,1 conducted in 1998
  • As seen after the disappearance of the dinosaurs.2

As with most rules in English, there is an exception. According to MLA criteria, superscripts must be placed before a dash, varying for all other types of punctuation:

  • Dr. Carol Markus3 – an acclaimed geological scientist

Don’t Go Overboard

Footnotes in your essay should be sprinkled in only where appropriate. When writing your essay, keep in mind that footnotes should be used only to add supplemental information to your paper. With this in mind, try to not to include footnotes in the portions of your essay that contain main points. Lastly, the convenience of your readers should always be your first priority when crafting footnotes. Footnotes should only exist to convey information that is helpful to the reader but that cannot be included in your paper due to a conflict in essay structure.