How to Do Footnotes

Two Methods:Using Footnotes as CitationsUsing Footnotes to Clarify Information

Footnotes are useful, as providing helpful supplementary information and citations at the bottom of a page of text. Typically, editors will suggest that parenthetical information be put into footnotes as a way of keeping the flow of the prose intact. Used judiciously, the footnote can be a helpful addition to a text or a quick way to cite a quotation.

Method 1
Using Footnotes as Citations

  1. Image titled Do Footnotes Step 1
    Write your bibliography/works cited before placing your footnotes. A footnote is commonly, but not always, a shortened version of a citation at the end of the book. Whatever content your footnote will include, however, it's probably the last thing to do in the writing of a text. Write your complete paper, including a list of references, before insert footnotes.
  2. Image titled Do Footnotes Step 2
    Go to the end of the sentence you want to footnote. In Microsoft Word, you would go to the References tab, click on the Footnotes group and select "Insert Footnote." A number "1" should appear to the right of the sentence, and a number "1" will appear in the footer of your first page. In the footer, type the information you'd like to include foot-noted.
    • The cursor should be placed after any punctuation. The number linking to the footnote should appear outside the sentence, not inside of it.
    • If you do not know where to find the menu to insert footnotes in your word processing program, go to the help menu and research it before starting to footnote your paper.
  3. Image titled Do Footnotes Step 3
    Cite your quotation or reference. In the event that you're using footnotes in place of parenthetical in-text citations, the footnote should include the name of the author or editor, title (in italics), compiler, translator or editor, edition, name of series (including number or volume), place of publication, publisher and date of publication and page numbers of citation.
    • For example: Reginald Daily, Timeless wikiHow Examples: Through the Ages (Minneapolis: St. Olaf Press, 2010), 115.
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    Cite an online resource. You need the following information in this order to footnote a website: author or editor of the website, title of the website (in italics), URL and date of access.
    • For example: Reginald Daily, Timeless wikiHow Examples, http://www.timelesswikihowexamples.html (accessed July 22, 2011).
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    Continue footnoting your article or essay with additional notes. Go to each location in which you've referenced another source and repeat this process. Use an abbreviated version of the source in subsequent footnotes that have the same source. You will need the author or editor's last name, an abbreviated title (in italics) and the number or numbers that are cited.
    • Regardless of what style you're using, the use of footnotes does not replace the need for an ending list of references in the article, even though they are made superfluous. Include a "Works Cited" page in MLA format and a Bibliography for an APA style paper.

Method 2
Using Footnotes to Clarify Information

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    Add footnotes that clarify sources to the reader. Instead of including publishing information about the source in the footnote, often writers will footnote additional "asides" or tangentially related information in footnotes, often gleaned from other resources not directly cited. David Foster Wallace, in his long novel Infinite Jest made use of pages-long footnotes as a kind of in-joke. In academic writing, this should be used sparingly, but is common in memoir or other non-fiction styles of prose.
    • Science writing conventions will often footnote additional research studies that came to similar conclusions, but aren't being directly cited in the study at hand.
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    Be brief. If a paper quoted a source that talked about wikiHow articles and you wanted to clarify it, your footnote after the number might look like this: "WikiHow examples are used to clarify text in situations where it would be helpful to have a visual cue. Reginald Daily, Timeless wikiHow Examples: Through the Ages (Minneapolis: St. Olaf Press, 2010), 115."
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    Use these types of footnotes sparingly. Long explanatory footnotes are distracting to the reader. If you find yourself with lots of extra information you need to put into footnotes, consider finding a place for it in the text, or otherwise revising the article or essay to account for it.
    • Editors will often recommend that any information included in parentheses in a piece of academic writing be footnoted instead. Consider the progression of the prose, the "flow" of the writing, and see if asides might be better off at the bottom of the page.
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    Double-check that a footnote is appropriate. Before using footnotes to reference sources, check with your editor or instructor to make sure you should cite the sources using a footnote. Typically, MLA or APA guidelines prefer you use a parenthetical in-text citation of a source, rather than a footnote, and reserve footnotes for supplementary information or alternative references to the same information. Footnotes are to be used only when necessary.
    • In Chicago style, footnotes are used in place of parenthetical citations and are more common.


  • Before writing, check with your professor or organization about whether the paper should be written in APA, MLA or Chicago style. Then, ensure your entire paper and footnotes conform to those style guidelines.

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Categories: Writing