Every academic discipline has its own rules for style and formatting. If you're going to be writing a chemistry report, you'll have to worry about writing equations and formatting tables, but if you're working on an English paper you might be more concerned about using block quotes correctly or creating subheadings. History papers are no exception, and students working on coursework for a history class will face a unique set of demands. Among the most important of these style challenges are footnotes, which historians rely on more than scholars in any other field.
Note: All information in this article comes from the 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, which is the most common style guide used for works in history. Other style guides such as MLA or APA will have different rules for when and how to use footnotes.
Footnotes and endnotes
Just what is a footnote? Basically, it's a number inserted into the text that directs the reader's attention to another location in the paper where they can find more information about what they've just read. In history papers footnotes serve as a way to cite sources, and the note is usually a bibliographic entry that details the source material for a quote or idea. However, these notes can also be used to expand on ideas in the text.
If the notes are located at the bottom of each page, they're called footnotes; if they're collected at the end of the paper, they're called endnotes. Generally, in history it's preferred that the writer use footnotes. This format makes it easy for readers since they only need to quickly scan down to the bottom of the page to read the note instead of having to flip back and forth between pages. However, if you have only a few notes or you have so many footnotes that they take up a sizable portion of the page, you may use endnotes. If you're not sure which to use, it's best to ask your teacher or professor which they prefer. In this article I'm going to refer to footnotes only, but all the issues discussed below can be applied to endnotes as well.
What goes in a footnote?
By far the most common type of information provided in a footnote will be citations-bibliographic information for a source you are citing in the main text. For history papers, every time you refer to work done by others, it's should be noted in the text with a footnote, and the note should list all the information the reader would need to track down the original source.
What to cite: Deciding what material to cite can be tricky. On one side of the citation spectrum you've got direct quotations-material typed word-for-word from the source text-that should always list the source. On the other side of the spectrum you have your own personal arguments and ideas; obviously these won't have a source to cite. Then you have everything else in between. Often it can be difficult to tell where your research ends and your own ideas begin or whether a fact or idea can be considered common enough to skip the citation. When you're in this gray area, it's a matter of personal discretion, but there are a few guidelines that can help:
- Direct quotes. Material that is copied word for word from another source should always include a citation. Note that direct quotations should be used sparingly. Unless the writer's language is of interest or you feel they expressed an idea in a way that you can't paraphrase, it's better to summarize the point.
- Paraphrasing. If you're paraphrasing someone else's ideas-that is, you're not quoting word-for-word but you're restating an original idea that came from another person's work-then you need to use a citation.
- Controversial ideas. Anything that could be considered controversial should include a reference to the source; if you're taking a side in a debate you need to show you have evidence to back it up.
- General knowledge. General facts such as dates and names don't require citations. If you can find it in any common textbook or encyclopedia, then you don't need to cite a specific source.
- Everything else. If you're not sure, it's always better to play it safe and provide a citation. Remember, anything that doesn't have a citation you're taking credit for, and you'll be better off if your paper has too many citations than if it looks like you're intentionally plagiarizing somebody else's work.
Bibliographic footnotes can also include information about the source if it's relevant. For example, you may want to give a brief description of the credibility of the source or note other relevant sources. These are not required, however, and should be used only when necessary to answer potential questions the reader might have that would lead them to question your work.
Footnotes can also be used to include information that is relevant but not vital to your main argument. For example, if you're discussing a historical figure, you may want to include an anecdote that's interesting but does not directly pertain to the main argument of your paper. This anecdote can be included in the footnotes-basically, it's a place to stash information that's interesting but that would interrupt the flow of your paper. These kinds of footnotes should be used sparingly. You don't want your reader to be constantly having to read through extra paragraphs in the notes, so before you include one of these footnotes think hard about whether it really adds value to your paper.
How to use footnotes
Footnotes should be marked in the text with a superscript number like this.1 The corresponding notes should be numbered at the bottom of the page under a line separating them from the main text.
1 Footnote one.
Footnotes should always be placed at the end of a sentence, never in the middle, and should come after the ending punctuation of the sentence.
More than one footnote should never be included side-by-side. If you need to reference more than one source, use only one footnotes and include the bibliographic information for all the sources in the same note. In fact, it's often a good idea to include more than one source, particularly when citing controversial work: the more evidence you can provide for your argument, the more credible your paper will be.
2 Source 1., 3 Source 2.
2 Source 1 & Source 2.
If you're going to be citing the same source several times in a single paragraph, it's preferred that you put a single footnote at the end of the paragraph. When you do need to cite the same source more than once, you can use a shortened version of the bibliographic entry. If you're citing the same source in two footnotes in a row, you can use the abbreviation ibid with the page number. A section of footnotes with these references might look like this:
3 Tracy Olleps, "Jefferson and Adams: A Political Friendship," Journal of American History 59, no. 2 (2001), 59.
4 ibid, 37.
5 Alice Brown-Hilt, Master of Monticello: The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Knopf, 2006), 119.
6 Olleps, Jefferson and Adams, 351.
Below are examples of how to format common sources when cited in the footnotes.
Book with one author (print)
1 Alice Brown-Hilt, Master of Monticello: The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Knopf, 2006), 119.
Book with more than one author (print)
2 Michael Holmes and Samantha S. White, Jefferson and France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 263.
Journal article (print)
3 Tracy Olleps, "Jefferson and Adams: A Political Friendship," Journal of American History 59, no. 2 (2001), 59.
Article in a magazine or newspaper (print)
4 Stuart Meijck, "Can Jefferson's Image Be Restored?," New York Times, 12 June 1993, A4.
Book with one author (online)
5 Alice Brown-Hilt, Master of Monticello: The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Knopf, 2006), 119. http://www.universitylibrary.edu/history/2165 (accessed 26 Aug 2011).
Journal article (online)
6 Tracy Olleps, "Jefferson and Adams: A Political Friendship," Journal of American History 59, no. 2 (2001), par. 4, http://www.JAH.org/59-2/Jefferson (accessed 24 Feb 2010).
Website (original content)
7 Juliet Ethelmann, "Who Was Thomas Jefferson?," Society of Jefferson Scholars, http://www.SJS.com/mainsite/Jefferson (accessed 12 Jan 2011).
At the end of your paper you should collect all the sources you cited in a list under the heading "Bibliography." These citations will look slightly different: the authors' first and last names should be reversed, and the page number is left off. For example:
Brown-Hilt, Alice. Master of Monticello: The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Knopf, 2006.
The list should be alphabetized by the author's last name.
Jefferson was unable to complete the requirements of the will due to legal complications,1 but he never commented on the matter directly.
Jefferson was unable to complete the requirements of the will due to legal complications, but he never commented on the matter directly.1
Adams claimed the affair to be "an injustice of the most heinous sort.2"
Adams claimed the affair to be "an injustice of the most heinous sort."2
Jefferson never publicly acknowledged the paternity of this children with Hemings, and they were only freed after his death.2,3
Jefferson never publicly acknowledged the paternity of this children with Hemings, and they were only freed after his death.2
How to Do Footnotes
Footnotes are powerful tools, they are used to provide ancillary information and also citations in the footer of a page. Most often, editors of books, journals and other media will ask that parenthetical information be included in footnotes as a way to control the prose of the document. When used properly, a footnote is an excellent way to add to work or to quickly cite or reference quotes and other secondary information.
There are several footnote formats.
Method A: Footnote Citations
- Create the works cited or bibliography prior to entering footnotes. Footnotes are typically a condensed version of a citation at the conclusion of a text. Any content included in a footnote will typically be done last. Finish the paper in its entirety, including all references used, and then add footnotes.
- Navigate to the end of the sentence where the footnote will go. If you are using a word processor like Microsoft Word, navigate to the references tab and select ‘footnote’ and then ‘insert footnote’ You should see a number “1” to the right of the sentence, and another in the footer. In the footer, you will type all of the information that you want to be included in the footnote.
- The footnote symbol should be stamped after any punctuation used. The corresponding number appears outside of the sentence.
- Include the citation for a reference or quote. Should you be using a footnote in the place of an in-text citation, it is necessary to include the surname of the writer or editor, along with the title of the work, edition, series, location of publication, date of publication and the name of the publisher.
- Citation of an online resource. In order to cite a website, or another online source, in a footnote you will need the name of the writer, or the editor of the website, along with the title of the website, the URL and the date it was accessed.
Method B: Utilizing footnotes as a way of providing further information
- Using footnotes as a means to provide clarification of information to the reader. Rather than adding information about the source in the footnotes, it is possible to use the footnote as a place to provide related information – often taken from sources that are not directly cited in the body of the paper.
- Keep it brief. If an essay quotes a source that talks about something specific and you need to clarify this, the footnote after the number will be brief, direct and include citations.
- Use this method of footnote moderately. Overdrawn footnotes, with in-depth explanations, are off putting. They distract and confuse the reader. If you end up having a lot of additional information, consider adding to the body of the paragraph.
- Often time, editors will suggest that additional information be included in parenthesis. Remember to take into account the prose and the flow of information.
- Make sure that the footnote is necessary. Prior to using footnotes to further reference sources, ask your teacher how you should be citing sources and if footnotes are required. Most often MLA footnote format asks writers to make use of in-text citations, instead of a footnotes. In this case, footnotes are reserved for supplementary information.
MLA Format Examples
For anyone required to adhere to the MLA (or Modern Language Association) guidelines for footnote citation, there are a number of things that need to be done when authoring an MLA research paper that requires foot and/or endnotes.
MLA Paper Example
If you choose to indent your paragraphs as recommended in the MLA Handbook (132), begin a new paragraph by typing the first word 1/2″ (1.25 cm or 5 spaces) from the left margin. The entire essay is typed double-spaced, except for Footnote citations at the foot of the page. Title of essay centered, 1” (2.5 cm) margin on all four sides, page number at upper right hand corner 1/2″ (1.25 cm) down from the top.
If your instructor prefers that paragraphs not be indented, you must still double-space your lines, but you will need to quadruple-space between paragraphs. More empty space is created for the instructor to write comments when paragraphs are not indented.
How to Use Footnotes
Footnotes must be listed numerically and consecutively, both in your essay and in your Footnote citation. Footnote numbers must be superscripted. In your text, add a superscripted number immediately after the quote or reference cited with no space.
The Footnote citations must be added at the foot or bottom of the SAME page where you have cited the sources. All first Footnote references must be cited in full. Subsequent references of the same work may be shortened to include only the author’s last name and page number. If the source cited has no author stated, use whatever minimal information is needed to identify the work previously cited, e.g. short title and page number. Formerly, the Latin terms ibid. and op. cit. were used but they are no longer preferred.
It is recommended that you use Endnotes in place of Footnotes. This will eliminate the need to allow sufficient space to accommodate all the required Footnote entries at the bottom of the same page where your citations occur. If your instructor has no preference, use the much simpler Parenthetical Documentation in place of Footnotes or Endnotes.
For details on how to handle Footnotes that continue onto the next page, please see MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers 6th ed., pages 299-300.
Begin your Footnote citations four lines (quadruple space) below your text. Follow the spacing as shown in the example below, e.g. indent the first line 1/2″ (1.25 cm), and add a space after the superscripted number. Do not indent the second and subsequent lines of Footnotes. Single-space Footnotes within each citation as there is not much room at the bottom of the page. Double-space entries between citations, and be sure to list them in the same consecutive order as cited in the text of the essay.
Mr. K. Smith
18 April 2006
The Many Facets of Taboo
The World Book Encyclopedia defines Taboo as “an action, object, person, or place forbidden by law or culture.”1
An encyclopedia of the occult points out that taboo is found among many other cultures including the ancient Egyptians, Jews and others.2
Mary Douglas has analyzed the many facets and interpretations of taboos across various cultures. She points out that the word “taboo” originates from the Polynesian languages meaning a religious restriction.3 She finds that “taboos flow from social boundaries and support the social structure.”4
In reference to Freak Shows at circuses, Rothenberg makes the observation that people who possess uncommon features and who willingly go out in public to display such oddities to onlookers are acting as “modern-day taboo breakers” by crossing the “final boundary between societal acceptance and ostracism.”5
In traditional British East Africa, between the time of puberty and marriage, a young Akamba girl must maintain an avoidance relationship with her own father.6
Looking at taboo in a modern society, Marvin Harris gives an interesting example of the application of cultural materialism to the Hindu taboo against eating beef.7
5 Kelly Rothenberg, “Tattooed People as Taboo Figures in Modern Society,” 1996, BME/Psyber City, 18 Jan. 2005 <http://bme.freeq.com/tatoo/tattab.html>.
6 Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo (New York: Random, 1918) 17.
7 Marvin Harris, “The Cultural Ecology of India’s Sacred Cattle,” Current Anthropology 1992, 7:51-66, qtd. in Stacy McGrath, “Ecological Anthropology,” Anthropological Theories: A Guide Prepared by Students for Students 19 Oct. 2001, U. of Alabama, 18 Jan. 2005 <http://www.as.ua.edu/ant/Faculty/Murphy/ecologic.htm>.
If your instructor considers your Footnote citations to be adequate documentation, you may not be required to complete a Works Cited, References or Bibliography page. Otherwise, a separate page must be added at the end of your paper entitled: Works Cited, References, or Bibliography to include all of the above Footnote citations. See sample below.
More information about MLA Footnote format.
Douglas, Mary. “Taboo.” Man, Myth & Magic. Ed. Richard Cavendish. New ed.
21 vols. New York: Cavendish, 1994. 2546-2549.
Dundes, Alan. “Taboo.” The World Book Encyclopedia. 2000 ed.
Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo. New York: Random, 1918.
McGrath, Stacy. “Ecological Anthropology.” Anthropological Theories: A Guide
Prepared by Students for Students. 19 Oct. 2001. U. of Alabama. 18 Jan. 2005
Rothenberg, Kelly. “Tattooed People as Taboo Figures in Modern Society.”
1996. BME/Psyber City. 18 Jan. 2005 <http://www.bme. freeq.com/tattoo/tattab.html>.
“Taboo.” Occultopedia: Encyclopedia of Occult Sciences and Knowledge. Site created
and designed by Marcus V. Gay. 18 Jan. 2005 <http://www.occultopedia.com/t/ taboo.htm>.
Writing an MLA style essay does not need to be an intimidating task, particularly if you’ve taken the time to create an outline, learned how to cite footnotes and created your supplementary pages (title and bibliography.) Putting forth the effort to carefully research your topic, and to create finished paper that is organized and flows nicely from one paragraph to the next is the best way to ensure that you well on your way to a passing grade and a strong career for academic writing.