What Are Footnotes? | Guide with Word Instructions

Footnotes are notes placed at the bottom of the page in a piece of academic writing and indicated in the text with superscript numbers (or sometimes letters or other symbols). You can insert footnotes automatically in Word or Google Docs. They’re used to provide:

  • Citations in certain styles
  • Additional information that would disrupt the flow of the main text

What Are Footnotes

Note: Footnotes are a lot like endnotes, which are used in similar ways. The difference is that endnotes appear all together at the end of the text, instead of separately on each page. This gives your text a less cluttered appearance, but it can also be inconvenient for readers.

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How to insert footnotes in Word and Google Docs

If you’re writing in Microsoft Word or in Google Docs, it’s easy to insert footnotes automatically using the built-in functionality of the software.

Most style guidelines are flexible enough that these automatically inserted footnotes meet their requirements, so that you don’t have to worry about the specifics of formatting.

Inserting footnotes in Word

It’s straightforward to insert footnotes in Word. Just follow these steps:

  1. Click on the point in the text where you want the footnote number to appear.
  2. Select the “References” tab at the top, and then select “Insert Footnote.”
  3. Type whatever text you want into the footnote that appears.

Inserting footnotes

Inserting footnotes in Google Docs

You can also easily add footnotes in Google Docs. Follow the steps below:

  1. Click on the point in the text where you want to add a footnote.
  2. At the top, click on “Insert” and then on “Footnote” in the drop-down menu.
  3. Type the text you want into the footnote.

Insert footnotes in Google Docs

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Numbering and placement of footnotes

Footnotes should be numbered consecutively in the order they appear throughout your paper. Each note should have a unique number; don’t use the same number again even if you cite the same source repeatedly.

Footnote numbers are usually placed at the end of the relevant clause or sentence. The number appears after any punctuation, except when the clause ends with an em dash, in which case the number appears before it. Don’t add a space before the number.

Example: Placement of footnote numbers
McGill argues that this method is flawed.1 However, other studies—such as that of Smith and Coulson2—come to the opposite conclusion.

Footnotes in Chicago style

Chicago style uses footnotes for citations (unless you’re following Chicago author-date). Footnotes can also be used to add extra information such as commentary on the source cited, or elaborations on a point you touched on in the main text.

In Chicago footnotes, you place a footnote at the end of the clause or sentence that needs a citation. The footnote contains full information about each source the first time you cite it, and shortened information for subsequent citations of the same source.

Example: Chicago footnotes

       1. Tegan George and Jack Caulfield, “Academic Integrity vs. Academic Dishonesty,” March 10, 2022, https://www.scribbr.com/plagiarism/academic-dishonesty/.

 2. George and Caulfield, “Academic Integrity.”

Full information about all your sources is usually included in a bibliography at the end, except in very short papers, where footnote citations may be used alone if your institution allows it.

Chicago recommends using your word processor’s built-in footnote function to add footnotes, but a couple of formatting details may need to be changed manually:

  • Add an indent at the start of each footnote (before the number).
  • Write the number at the start of the note in normal text (not superscript), followed by a period and then a space.
  • Leave one blank line between footnotes, and make sure footnotes are single-spaced.

Footnotes in APA Style

APA footnotes are used only for providing extra information, since APA in-text citations appear in parentheses instead.

You can use them to provide supplemental information such as additional examples or clarifications; do this sparingly, as APA warns against including nonessential information. Footnotes are also used to provide copyright attribution when it’s needed.

Example: APA footnotes

               1 From What Parents Can Expect in Behavior Therapy, by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017 (https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/infographics/what-parents-expect.html). In the public domain.

              2 A second round of testing was initially planned, but this idea was abandoned due to …

APA recommends using your word processing software to automatically insert footnotes, but add an indent at the start of each footnote if this isn’t done automatically. The footnote begins with the superscript footnote number followed by a space.

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Footnotes in MLA style

MLA footnotes are used to provide supplemental information such as extra examples, clarifications of citation practice, or elaborations on ideas.

MLA in-text citations appear in parentheses, not in notes, but where a lot of citations are needed at once, they can be placed in a footnote to avoid cluttering the text.

Example: MLA footnotes

           1 Citations of marginalia refer to George’s edition and include page numbers. Citations of the poem refer to Davis’s edition and include line numbers.

        2 This remains a controversial point. Researchers in the field have debated this issue since …

            3 See Crittenden 5–11; Kent 17–34; Smith 44–50; and Jones 36.

MLA recommends using your word processor to automatically insert footnotes, styling the number at the start of the citation in superscript, followed by a space. An indent should also be added at the start of the footnote (before the number).

Frequently asked questions about footnotes and endnotes

What’s the difference between footnotes and endnotes?

Footnotes appear at the bottom of the page they refer to. This is convenient for the reader but may cause your text to look cluttered if there are a lot of footnotes.

Endnotes appear all together at the end of the whole text. This may be less convenient for the reader but reduces clutter.

Both footnotes and endnotes are used in the same way: to cite sources or add extra information. You should usually choose one or the other to use in your text, not both.

What are footnotes used for?

Footnotes are notes indicated in your text with numbers and placed at the bottom of the page. They’re used to provide:

Be sparing in your use of footnotes (other than citation footnotes), and consider whether the information you’re adding is relevant for the reader.

How do I insert a footnote in Word?

To insert a footnote automatically in a Word document:

  1. Click on the point in the text where the footnote should appear
  2. Select the “References” tab at the top and then click on “Insert Footnote”
  3. Type the text you want into the footnote that appears at the bottom of the page
How do I convert footnotes to endnotes (or vice versa) in Word?

If you need to change the type of notes used in a Word document from footnotes to endnotes, or the other way around, follow these steps:

  1. Open the “References” tab, and click the arrow in the bottom-right corner of the “Footnotes” section.
  2. In the pop-up window, click on “Convert…”
  3. Choose the option you need, and click “OK.”

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Caulfield, J. (2022, June 07). What Are Footnotes? | Guide with Word Instructions. Scribbr. Retrieved January 8, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/citing-sources/what-are-footnotes/

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.