Using Footnotes: The Dos And Don’ts
(Last updated: 29 August 2018)
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In university, your ability to reference sources correctly will have a considerable impact on the mark you receive. The rules you must follow can be tricky to grasp initially, but if you do ever need a quick recap then Oxbridge Essays are always happy to help and give your work a going over to pick up any tiny errors.
The difference between a footnote and a bibliography
Mistakes with footnotes are common. Some students choose to use footnotes without having a firm grasp of how they should be used, or what they should be used for. As a general rule, if you’re not 100 percent sure how a footnote should be used, it’s best not to use one at all.
Footnotes should be included to provide the reader with additional information about the content. The footnote is found at the bottom of the page, and is referenced through a superscript number within the main body of your copy.
The bibliography page is the last section of your essay or dissertation and includes the full citation information for any source cited or referenced through the course of your work. The information contained within a bibliography will provide the reader with full details of the work, including when and where the source was published. A footnote might only include the title of the source.
How to use footnotes correctly
Write your footnotes last – A footnote is commonly, but not always, a shortened version of a citation contained in your bibliography. Whatever content you choose to include, it’s usually best to leave your footnotes until the essay is finished and your bibliography is complete. Place a short reminder in the form of a comment or even a brief footnote to prompt you to fill these in later.
You still need a bibliography – With the occasional exception found in the Oxford referencing system, the use of footnotes does not replace the need for a bibliography at the end of your essay, despite the fact that extensive footnotes can make them seem superfluous. Remember that your bibliography should include all of your reading, and everything that has informed your essay, even if they are not directly referenced. Doing so will prove you’ve done your research too.
Double-check footnotes can be used – Different universities and referencing styles all have their own take on footnotes, so before you start listing footnote citations, check they are actually allowed. Typically, British universities prefer the use of in-text citations.
Footnotes and different referencing styles
Using the Harvard system, which is the predominant form of referencing at universities in the UK, sources are cited in short, parenthetical notes within the text. Footnotes are not allowed. Citations within the text should include the name of the author, the date of the source, and, if necessary, the page numbers you used. The rest of the information, such as the title and publication details, should be included in the bibliography.
Using the Oxford system, citations in the text usually consist of a superscript number which relates to a footnote at the bottom of the page. If you write full bibliographic information in the footnote, you may not have to include a bibliography. However, it’s well worth checking with your tutor beforehand.
When you reference a source in a footnote for the first time using the Oxford system, you must provide full bibliographic information, which includes:
- Author’s initials and surname, title of the article, book or journal, editor (if applicable), publisher name, location and year published
The Chicago citation style, established by the University of Chicago Press, is probably the most commonly used footnote format. Guidelines to help you avoid mistakes with footnotes include: always include a full citation the first time you reference a source; cite author’s names as they appear with texts; don’t replace names with initials; and if no author is listed, organise the entry by title.
A Chicago style footnote citation will take the following form:
- Author’s first name and last name, title in italics, city of publication, publisher and year, page number if relevant.
Don’t forget footnotes
It’s easy to get caught up in the act of writing your essay, but it’s imperative that you include full footnotes and proper referencing whenever possible, as that is what separates academic writing from opinion. At Oxbridge Essays, we know a thing or two about how to use footnotes. And if you have an essay you need a little help with, we can provide full referencing in your chosen style, so get in touch for help.
Even with all the advice in the world, essay writing, using footnotes and correctly referencing your essay can still be extremely challenging for some. It can often be hard simply to know where to begin, or some students become overwhelmed mid-way through the writing process. Wherever you are with your essay writing, if you're struggling and need help, you've come to the right place.