How to use and write Footnotes and Endnotes in academic papers
Research papers and reports often include adjuncts such as charts and graphs, tables, diagrams, a hierarchy of headings, citations and references etc. Notes – whether footnotes or endnotes – are an important adjunct. They primarily serve the role of supplying additional information, which, if weaved into the main text, may reduce its ease of readability.
Footnotes vs. endnotes
- Location: By definition, footnotes appear at the foot of a page on which appears the text they support. Endnotes are placed at the end of a paper, a chapter or a book.
- Space: Footnotes, being located at the bottom of each individual page, are constrained by the amount of space available, whereas endnotes, located right at the end of the text, are afforded much more ample room.
- Amount of information (and flow): The above point (space) is a useful distinction that tells readers what to expect. Footnotes offer small bits of information that you can choose to take in without breaking stride. You could take a quick look and return to the main text on the same page. On the other hand, endnotes may sometimes contain sizeable amounts of information, but you do not have to interrupt your reading of the main text. You can choose to read them once you have reached the end of the document.
As discussed, footnotes comprise small bits of information short enough to take in at a glance. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate the function of footnotes.
- A text may mention the name of an organisation and use a footnote to explain that the organisation had a different name in the past.
- A text may mention a certain sum of money in Korean Won, and the corresponding footnotes will indicate the equivalent sum in US dollars.
As discussed too, endnotes can comprise much longer parcels of information. Here too are a couple of examples to illustrate the use of endnotes.
- While you may describe a certain method in your main text, you might use an endnote to outline in more detail some other tangential studies, perhaps from a slightly different field, which used that same method, the results they produced and why this may be of interest.
- You might cite an important quotation within the main body of your text and then include in a related endnote the full paragraph or section from which that quotation was taken, thus enabling interested readers to explore the wider context and additional insights if they wish.
Usage in academic papers and digital documents
As an author of an academic paper, you can choose between footnotes and endnotes depending on how much additional information you want to give. Be aware, however, that footnotes and endnotes, especially endnotes, are virtually never used in research papers in the physical and biological sciences. They may sometimes be used in the social sciences and are more commonly seen in the humanities.
In digital documents, the distinction between footnotes and endnotes and their placement is less important, because the additional information can be connected to the main text with hyperlinks.
Writing footnotes and endnotes
- Superscripts and symbols: Within the main text, both footnotes and endnotes are typically signalled, or announced, using superscript numbers, although, for footnotes, other symbols such as a star or an asterisk (*), a dagger or obelisk (†), a double dagger or diesis (‡), a section mark (§), a pilcrow or blind p (¶), and so on are also employed, usually in that order. Do note that these symbols are never used with endnotes.
- Numbers: With numbered footnotes, the sequence either begins afresh on each page or can be continued throughout within a paper, a chapter (e.g. if the book has chapters by different contributors) or a book. Endnotes are always numbered and the sequence is always continuous.
- Heading for endnotes: Note that the heading for endnotes, when all of them are gathered at the end, is simply ‘Notes’ and not ‘Endnotes’.
- Footnotes for tables: Table titles, column or row headings, or specific cells within a table can all carry footnotes. Those footnotes are explained at the foot of the table in question and not at the foot of a page on which the table appears.
As a scholar, try to familiarise yourself with the idea of notes and their related mechanics as early on in your writing process as possible. These details can seem numerous at first, but once you master them, you will be able to spontaneously incorporate them into your writing.
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