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4.11 The Research Essay -- Footnotes

You should always use footnotes (or endnotes) in order to give the source of facts or opinions which you have obtained from outside sources. If you quote any author, or document of any kind, you must specify where the original information can be found. This is necessary for one reason only: your reader may want to consult the same text or document, for whatever reason, and so you must specify it. Of course, footnotes may also contain textual material of your own doing. There are times when you want to make a statement about something but it doesn't quite fit in with your outline. The best thing to do is to include this information as a textual footnote. In this way, you can still include the information without taking away from the flow of the essay.

Again, all direct quotations must be footnoted, and there's no escaping that simple fact. Controversial facts or opinions must also be footnoted. Finally, statements that you make which support the main points of your essay must also be footnoted.

The number of footnotes to be used in a 20-30 page essay varies from student to student and subject to subject. If you begin your essay with four or five footnotes per page and then only have one footnote for the next six pages, then something is amiss. You are probably not documenting something that does need to be documented. Of course, if you insert a footnote every other sentence, then you may be overdoing it. One technique I've seen is for students to footnote every paragraph. In other words, there is a footnote either at the beginning or end of the paragraph. This technique is only proper if and only if the note refers to the information in the paragraph as a whole.

There is, of course, no set number of footnotes to be utilized in each and every research essay you may be called upon to write. The number of footnotes will ultimately depend on the nature of your subject. However, for those of you who like numbers, a twenty-five page research essay could contain anywhere between 20 and 75 footnotes. Again, it all depends on the subject.

Should you use footnotes or endnotes? Your decision depends on the stylistic format established by your instructor. There's nothing wrong with endnotes. In fact, they make for an easier read because your reader's eyes are not constantly shifting between the text and the bottom of the page. Of course, flipping between pages of text and pages of endnotes is tiring as well. The bottom line is this: use what your professor prefers. And remember the cardinal rule: whatever style you have been asked to use, stick to it. Consistency is everything.

The footnote number, in superscript, should be placed at the end of the sentence or quotation. There will come a time, however, when you need to insert two notes within the same sentence. This is perfectly acceptable practice. It all depends on the nature of the thing being footnoted. It goes without saying that your footnotes must be numbered consecutively from beginning to end. Such a task is made easy with a word processor. Remove or add a footnote (or even 12!) and your numbering is adjusted automatically.

The proper format of the footnote should follow the style manual (Turabian, MLA, Chicago, APA) which your instructor suggests you use. If he does not specify a style manual, then obtain one at your library or at the bookstore and keep it near you as you type up the final draft. Again, remember to maintain consistency.

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