• 3-minute read
  • 28th November 2017

Essay Tips: Footnotes and Endnotes

When writing an essay, anything that could win you extra marks is welcome. As such, why not use every single bit of the page to your advantage? Effective use of footnotes and endnotes, for example, can help you put the finishing touches on a piece of academic writing.

What Are Footnotes and Endnotes?

The names give these away: footnotes are notes that go at the foot of a page; endnotes are notes that go at the end of a document. Both are typically indicated with superscript numbers in the main text of your document, like at the end of this sentence.1

Which type of note to use may depend on your style guide. However, both have advantages:

  • Footnotes are easy to read, as they are on the same page as the information you’re commenting on
  • Endnotes help ensure your work looks tidy and professional, since all notes are given at the end of the document (useful if you’d be leaving a lot of footnotes otherwise)

Both can be quickly added in Microsoft Word via the ‘References’ menu.

Your options.

What Should I Include in Footnotes/Endnotes?

With certain referencing systems (e.g. Oxford or Vancouver), citations are given in footnotes or endnotes (there’s even a piece of referencing software called EndNote). This, in fact, is probably their most common use in academic writing. If your university requires this, it should be set out in your style guide. Check this or ask a supervisor if you’re unsure.

But it’s not just references that go in footnotes and endnotes. You can also use them for additional information, commentary or clarifications. For example, even if it isn’t necessary for the argument you’re making, you might want to point out some further reading. Adding this as a footnote will help your reader without interrupting the main flow of your work.

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The key thing to remember is that you should never put essential information in footnotes. Your reader should be able to follow your arguments without needing to check footnotes.

Word Count Issues

Finally, we need to consider the word count. Footnotes and endnotes should only contain non-essential information (e.g. background details, references). As such, many universities don’t include them in the final word count.

Like appendices, this means you can use footnotes and endnotes for supplemental information when editing an essay. Doing this can even reduce the word count slightly sometimes. However, this is not always the case, so you should always check your style guide on this issue.

And, just to reiterate, you should never use footnotes or endnotes for any vital information. If you do, your marker may ignore it (or assume you’re trying to cheat the word count).

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