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Footnote and Endnote Basics

If you are confused as to why your professor has engaged the class in a 20 minute rant on making proper footnotes, this is the place to be.  Why do we rant?  It's because composing notes is really the easy part of putting together a professional paper.  We expect all of our students to master this skill.  Students need to use lots of footnotes/endnotes in their research papers.  Their function is two-fold.  First, they cite the primary or secondary evidence that is used in the body of the paper.  Second, they provide a venue for extended commentary on the sources--material that your reader may find distracting in the body of the paper.  The procedure for creating a note is simple, straight-forward, and is similar across various software platforms.  The following demonstration uses MS Word 2003, but will work for almost all versions of Word.  More importantly, once you understand the process, you'll be able to make notes in most other editors without too much difficulty.

Footnote or endnote?

Your instructor will advise you on the form of your note.  They may require either footnotes or endnotes.  A footnote is a note that is placed on the foot of the page.  Note #1, after the word "spy-glass" refers to the bottom of the page.  The note itself contains a cite to the source quoted in the body of the paper.  Note that this is the first page of a chapter.  Generally speaking, start numbering your pages on the second page. 


An endnote is a note that is placed at the end of the document.  The notes run in a continuous series.  Here is an example of the first two endnotes in an unpublished article.


Endnote #1 cites the source from a note that was placed on the first page of the article.

Making a footnote/endnote in Word

The principle for creating a note in a text editor is very simple and shared by most programs.  You simply need to "insert" the note into the document.  A similar procedure is used when you insert page numbers into a document.  Once the note is finished, you never have to worry about changing the number of the note (for instance, if you add or delete a few notes above the one you are working on) or the placement of the note (for example, if you add or delete a few pages of text above the note you are working, the note will travel to the appropriate place).  Remember that different programs use slightly different procedures.  When you have a question, simply click on the program's "help" screen and do a search for "making footnotes."

Every now and then I find a student who makes notes by going down to the bottom of the page, typing in a straight line, superscripting a number, and then adding text.  This is the way the previous generation composed notes with typewriters;  those who haven't are indeed fortunate.  Here's how to use your text editor to do the hard work for you:  

1)  Place the cursor at the end of the desired sentence in the body of the paper.

2)  Then click on "insert."  A dropdown menu should appear and you will have the option like "note," or "endnote," or "reference."  Clicking on one gets you to a dialog box that will look something like this:


There will be lots of options to choose from here.  Select footnotes or endnotes.  The default settings usually work just fine, but you may want to experiment to explore your options.  For example, some programs default to a numbering style that uses roman numerals--i, ii, iii.  If so, you will want to switch it to the option you see in the illustration above--1, 2, 3.  When you are finished, click "insert."

3)  Your text editor now does all the work for you;  it places a superscripted number in the body of the text, provides a corresponding note at the bottom of the page (or ed of paper), and leaves your cursor within the note:


When you are finished typing in your note, simply use your mouse to place the cursor back in the body of the text.  Your note is now finished.

Editing your notes

Editing footnotes and endnotes has gotten easier and easier.  With most programs, all you have to do is move your mouse's cursor to the note and click.  Then you can edit, change your font sizes, etc.  Here are some general rules of thumb on format:

    Use a 12 point font
    Double space within the note
    Double space between notes
    Use a hanging indent

    Use a 10 point font (12 point font in the body);  this is not a hard and fast rule.  I just think it looks more elegant.
    Single space within the note
    Double space between notes

You will find the greatest diversity in programs while editing your notes, so you will have to experiment with different options until you get what you want.

Style (what goes in a note)

There are different "systems" for  citing sources.  Since you are here, and presumably going to use footnotes or endnotes, you are probably using what is known as "Chicago Style" (also called "Turabian")  Every type of source (book, article, magazine article, newspaper article, dissertation, oral history, government report, archived letter etc. ad infinitum) requires a unique placement of information within the note.  Books are written on this.  Fortunately, you don't have to memorize all of the rules.  All you need to do is consult a style guide.   A nice, though brief, online guide is at the University of Wisconsin Writing Center    

Follow these style guides with precision.  Pay attention to what gets underlined or italicized.  Watch your punctuation marks.  And please don't confuse bibliographic style (similar but very distinct) with note style.  Here's a test:  if you are putting the author's last name first while writing within a note, you're very likely using the wrong style.  Once you use them for a while, the practice will become second nature.

Contact for help

Please feel free to come to my office to talk about footnoting and/or guidelines on how to write a Philosophy paper. See the class syllabus for my office hours.


Adapted from online posting by Gary Kroll

Introduction to Philosophy World Religions