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How to Write Footnotes in MLA and APA


The time has come. You need to write footnotes as part of your paper. The sweat is beading. You’re starting to wonder if there is a way around it. Formatting footnotes isn’t the end of the world, if you know what you’re doing.

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When to Use Footnotes in APA

Before you dive head first into the world of footnotes, it is important to realize that APA format doesn’t generally recommend that you write footnotes at all. Not only can they get distracting, but this format opts for parenthetical references. There will come a time when it can’t be avoided, however. In APA, this is when you need further information, content footnotes, or copyright permissions.

  • Content notes provide supplemental information that doesn’t fit in the text but is supplemental.
  • Copyright permissions footnotes are designed for information that we need permissions to reprint or exceeds 400 words, especially in published works.

Step 1: Creating In-Text Footnote Numbers

To create a footnote, you’ll add a superscript number after the punctuation. The exception is dashes, which footnotes go before, and parentheses; the footnote will go inside the parentheses.


Journalists examined –over several years1— the ancient tools used in photojournalism.(These can be seen in the Cambridge Museum.3)

Step 2: Formatting Footnotes

When you write footnotes, you can choose to format them at the bottom of the page or on a separate page at the end of the paper, typically after the references. On a separate page, you’ll have a header that says footnotes, and then you can list the footnotes. The formatting will be different if they are content footnotes or copyright footnotes, but each will start with the superscript number in the related text.


Content Note: 1See Burquest (2010), especially chapter 5, for more information on this journalist’s theory.

Copyright Note: From the chapter “Theories of Photojournalism” W. Jones and R. Smith, 2010, Photojournalism, 21, p. 122. Copyright 2007 by Copyright Holder. Reprinted with permission.

When MLA Footnotes Come into Play

Student writing footnotes for research paper

Your professor asked for footnote citations, and you are freaking out. MLA makes footnotes simple. In MLA, footnotes can be used for citations of bibliographical information or for content notes.

  • Bibliographical citations are used when the parenthetical citations get too complicated or for a string of sources. They are used to flag translations or editions.
  • Content notes are used to add further information that is related to a point, justify a study or to explain word choices.

Step 1: Adding Your Citation

Much like APA, denoting a footnote in MLA requires the use of a number in superscript, which you should try to place at the end of a sentence. This will be after punctuation or quotes. However, in some cases, it’ll make most sense in the middle of a sentence.

Alaskans must avoid their father during the time of puberty.1

In that area, obstacles come in to “keep the men and women separated.”2

The men and women in stories are kept separate,and this might be due to some financial obstacle.

Step 2: Creating Your Footnote

Footnotes are found at the bottom of the page in their own special section. They will follow the numerical order on the page. Each note will start with the superscript number that corresponds with the in-text citation. The bibliographical citations provide citations similar to the works cited and vary based on the source. The content notes will point the reader to where more information can be found.

Example: Bibliographic Citation

1Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo(New York: Random, 1918) 26.

Example: Content Notes

2See Green, especially 1-8, to show the different courtship principles.

The Difference Between a Bibliography and Footnote

Bibliographies and footnotes both work to relay information about the text but the information that you’ll find in each is different. Bibliographies offer full citations of the works that were used in or to create the different arguments and concepts in the text.

Footnotes, on the other hand, are used to provide bibliographical information in tricky situations or to provide further context that doesn’t fit in the body of the writing. Additionally, footnotes are set off with superscript numbers and found at the end of the page, while bibliographies are their own entity at the end of the entire piece.

Using Footnotes

Footnotes are a great tool for helping to clarify thoughts in a paper or get rid of confusion that can be caused by overly long bibliographical citations. While they can be scary to create your first time, footnotes serve a unique purpose in keeping your writing clean and concise.

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