• 4-minute read
  • 5th June 2019

How to Use Footnotes and Endnotes

Footnotes and endnotes both let you add extra information in an essay or college paper. But what should you include in these notes? And when should you use them? In this post, we run through everything you need to know about using footnotes and endnotes in academic writing.

What Are Footnotes and Endnotes?

Footnotes appear at the bottom or “foot” of the page. You can therefore put extra information in a footnote, such as source details for a citation, without interrupting the flow of the main text.

To indicate a footnote, you can add a superscript number to the text, such as at the end of this sentence.1 These numbers then correspond to numbered notes at the bottom of the page.

A footnote or three.
A footnote or three.

Endnotes are like footnotes, but they appear together at the end of the document rather than at the bottom of each page. Endnotes are thus less immediately accessible for the reader than footnotes, but they can help ensure that pages with multiple notes don’t become cluttered.

If you are not sure which to use, check your style guide for advice.

Footnotes and Endnotes in Microsoft Word

To insert a footnote or endnote in a Microsoft Word document, you need to:

  • Go to References > Footnotes on the main ribbon
  • Select either Insert Footnote or Insert Endnote as required
  • Type your note in the newly created footnote/endnote
Footnote tools in MS Word.
Footnote tools in MS Word.

You can also customize the style of footnotes and endnotes by clicking on the arrow in the bottom right of the Footnotes section of the References tab (or by going to Insert > Footnotes in Word for Mac). This will open a new window where you can select your preferred formatting options.

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When to Use Footnotes and Endnotes

The main uses of footnotes and endnotes are as follows:

  • To add a footnote citation in referencing systems such as MHRA and Chicago, with full source information also given in a bibliography at the end of the document. Endnotes are also used for citations in some systems, such as in IEEE or Vancouver referencing, where numbers in the text point to an entry in a reference list at the end of the document.
  • To add non-essential commentary on something in the main text of your document. For example, if your research has raised an interesting question that is not directly relevant to your current work, you could mention it in a footnote or endnote. This lets you acknowledge the question – showing the reader that you haven’t simply ignored or failed to notice it – but without interrupting the flow of prose in the main document.

Keep in mind, too, that some referencing systems use in-text parenthetical citations. As such, you should only reference a source in a footnote or endnote if your school has asked you to do it this way.

Do Notes Count Towards the Word Limit?

We’re often asked whether to include footnotes and endnotes in the word count for papers. Different schools have different rules about this, so you will have to check your style guide. However, you should never use these supplementary notes to cheat the word count.

The key here is that essential information should never go in a footnote or endnote. If you do move vital evidence or analysis to a note, the person marking your work may ignore it. And reducing the word count is never more important than putting forward a full, coherent argument.

If you do need to reduce the word count in an essay, you have other options, such as rewriting wordy sentences or cutting repetition. Having your work proofread is a great way to ensure that your writing is always clear and concise, too, so let us know if you’d like any help.

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