How and When to Use Footnotes

If a professor asks you to write a term paper with footnotes, you’ll need a few more pieces of information in order to complete the assignment. Footnotes have a role within most English-language style guides; however, depending on the guidebook, the exact role of the notation system differs. Before you write your paper, you’ll probably want to ask the professor whether he or she has a particular stylebook in mind. 

Luckily, no matter which style guide you choose, formatting footnotes should be simple. Most word processors offer tools that properly format footnotes, ensuring that the notes automatically appear in order at the bottom of the page. For example, within Microsoft Word, move the cursor to where you want to place the footnote, then select References > Insert Footnote. In a Google document, select Insert > Footnote

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Modern Language Association (MLA) Style

Papers written in MLA style include parenthetical citations rather than footnotes or endnotes. When using this style guide, there are only a few instances where it’s appropriate to insert footnotes. In the first instance, you may need to include a footnote to clarify a complex bibliographical note. For instance, you could use a footnote to specify a particular book edition or list a long string of different sources. Beyond that, you might use a footnote to add additional information to a section of text. For example, you could insert a footnote next to the name of a scientific study to explain that the study has faced scrutiny. To include information that is not essential to the main text, many authors would prefer to make content notes at the bottom of the page in a footnote. 

In most cases, MLA footnotes appear as a superscript number placed after the punctuation at the end of the sentence. In some cases, such as making a content note about a word choice, it’s appropriate to place the footnote at the end of a word or after a comma rather than at the end of a sentence. 

American Psychological Association (APA) Style

As with MLA style, APA style encourages writers to include in-text citations inside parentheses. When footnotes do appear in an APA-style research paper, they signal a content note or a copyright permission. Content notes in APA style appear as superscript numbers that come before dashes and parentheses but after all other forms of punctuation. If the content note discusses a particular word, the footnote number should appear at the end of the word. 

Footnotes signifying copyright permissions normally appear underneath an image, graph, or chart. If the copyrighted material appears within the text, you should place the superscript number directly after the quoted text. 

The Chicago Manual of Style

Many papers within the humanities use the Notes and Bibliography (NB) citation system described in The Chicago Manual of Style. Any time an author cites a source document, whether through a quotation, paraphrase, or summary, he or she must include a corresponding footnote and endnote. Footnotes appear at the bottom of the page, and endnotes appear in a bibliography section at the end of the paper, article, or chapter. The first time that you reference a particular work requires a full citation in the footnote. For books, you must include the full note the first time a source appears within each chapter. 

Here are some examples of formatting for different types of source material: 


Author’s Name, Book Title (City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication), page number.

Chapter in an Anthology

Author’s Name, “Chapter Title,” in Anthology Title, ed. Editor’s Name (City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication), page number.

Entire Anthology

Editor’s Name, ed., Anthology Title (City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication), page number.

Translated Book

Author’s Name, Book Title, trans. Translator’s Name (City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication), page number.

Journal Article

Author’s Name, “Article Title,” Journal Title #, no. #, (Month Year): page number.

Subsequent references only need to include the shortened form of the footnote:

  • Author’s Last Name, Book Title, page number.
  • Author’s Last Name, “Chapter or Article Title,” page number.

If the title contains more than four words, you may shorten the title in the shortened form of the footnote. For example, Their Eyes Were Watching God could be shortened to Their Eyes.  

When referencing the same source multiple times consecutively, include the shortened footnote without the title. If the page number does not change, you may omit the page number as well. You may also use the word Ibid. under these conditions (or Ibid. followed by a new page number). The most recent edition of the style guide favors the title-less, shortened form of the footnote over the Latin abbreviation. 

  • Author’s Last Name, page number.  
  • Author’s Last Name.
  • Ibid., page number. 

With Chicago NB style, the footnote at the bottom of the page should be written with the full-size numeral rather than a superscript number.

The Chicago Manual of Style Author-Date style uses parenthetical citations. Footnotes and endnotes do not appear in journal articles, papers, or books that use Author-Date formatting.  

Turabian Style

The use of footnotes in Turabian style is similar to Chicago style. Mostly, the difference has to do with the formatting of the footnotes. Turabian allows authors to use superscript numbers for both the in-text notes and the notes at the bottom of the page. This corresponds with the default setting on most word processors.

Associated Press Style

The Associated Press issues a style guide intended for news publications. In this citation style, the writer gives attributions for quotations and paraphrases within the body of the text. Accordingly, footnotes do not appear in most news publications or other documents written within AP style guidelines. In news articles, you also won’t see parenthetical explanations, asides, or other content notes printed as a footnote. Instead, any extraneous information either fits into the prose or gets edited out of the article entirely.