You have probably seen them: footnotes are often used in books to provide additional information, explain a notion the reader may not understand, or reference the source of the data. Footnotes are placed at the bottom of the page, distinguishing them from the endnotes, which are put at the end of the chapter or in the Notes section after the main text.

In academic and research writing, footnotes provide context that does not fit the main part or for referencing. The latter is essential to stay plagiarism-free and pass any plagiarism checker analysis. Let’s see how to make footnotes and when to apply this type of citation.

When to use footnotes

Footnotes serve two primary purposes:

  • provide additional information, broader context, commentary, explanation, or any supplemental data that doesn’t fit the main part of the text;
  • cite the sources in some styles of academic writing.

Footnotes are primarily required in Chicago-style writing. In some cases, they are also applied in MLA and APA.

  • In advertising, footnotes may also provide some legal explanations, for example, containing information about the copyright or license.
  • “Note” is the keyword in the “footnote” – it contains some supplemental information, so if the data is crucial, you’d better include it in the main text.

How to make a footnote

In writing, the notion or sentence that needs to be explained in a footnote is marked with a footnote signal. Most often, it is a number (¹) or an asterisk (*). Footnote text is placed at the bottom of the page under the corresponding symbol.

  • Within the text, the footnote indicator should follow the notion it relates to – if possible, place it at the end of the sentence after the punctuation mark. The exception is a dash (—), which should be proceeded with the footnote signal.
  • The footnote text goes at the bottom of the page under the symbol corresponding to the main body footnote indicator. If there are several notes on one page, they should be placed in the order the notions they explain appear in the text.
  • Usually, when there are not many footnotes in the paper, they are marked with asterisks (*). When the writing contains plenty of references, subsequent numbers (¹) are the better choice. The numbering may even be reset at each chapter if the quantity of footnotes is vast.

Footnotes and Chicago citation style

Chicago is the primary citation style that requires footnotes for crediting the sources. Chicago is mainly used for business, history, fine arts, and humanities studies at the graduate level. This citation style includes two systems for source referencing.

Notes and Bibliography

  • preferred in humanities — literature, history, and the arts;
  • can provide information about the sources that don’t fit into the author-date format (like websites, TV programs, or interviews).


  • typical for the sciences and social science;
  • includes in-text citations.

In Notes and Bibliography type, endnotes or footnotes can be chosen to provide sources referencing. There are also two ways of citing in Notes and Bibliography format. Let’s consider an example.

Perhaps the most “spiritual” thing any of us can do is simply to look through our own eyes, see with eyes of wholeness, and act with integrity and kindness.¹ – here we see a footnote indicator in the text.

Then, we put the relevant number and a period and provide information about the source. Here, we have two options for citing.

Short citation + Full Bibliography after the main text.

  • A short footnote includes the author’s last name, the abbreviated title, and the page numbers.
  • 1. Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are, 40. – short footnote.

Full citation in the footnote without Full Bibliography.

  • A full footnote should provide the author’s full name, complete work’s title, information about the publication (city, publisher name, year), and page numbers.
  • The short citation form can be used if the same source is cited again.
  • 1. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (New York: Hachette Books, 2005), 40. – full footnote

Footnotes in APA citation style

Usually, APA format requires in-text citations in parentheses in the paper’s body. However, there are some cases when footnotes are used for APA writing.

  • Content comments and explanations – when the paper’s content requires additional explanation or context that can’t be provided in the main text.
  • Copyright attribution – when the paper contains copyright-protected material, for example, visual content that requires referencing.

The citation format for footnotes in APA is similar to the one used in Chicago papers. The difference is that instead of a usual number, we put a superscript without a period in the APA footnote.

¹ The concept of mindfulness was first introduced by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1991.

Footnotes in MLA citation style

MLA, like APA format, requires in-text referencing. However, we also have some exceptions here when footnotes are preferred over parenthesized explanations.

  • When attribution is too long – for example, we are referring to several sources.
  • When we refer to non-standard sources that require explanation or providing additional data, like poems’ line numbers.
  • When the source we refer to has different versions or translations – it is better to provide information about the particular one in the footnotes.
  • When we need to include some extra information that doesn’t fit the text.

MLA footnote format is similar to the one used in APA-style papers.

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