How to Write a Footnote
Writing a footnote is an inevitable part of every academic work whether it is an article, a Master’s thesis, a PhD dissertation, a monograph, or any other academic paper. Footnotes could serve as a means for presenting additional information or for clarification of an issue already touched upon in the writing. Depending on one’s own personal style, some people prefer writing footnotes, but other people do not. The advantage of writing a footnote is that it gives additional information, as we stated. Its negative side is to be found in the fact that the footnote may distract the reader from the main body of the writing in question. Let’s say, a person is reading a monograph about evolution and it contains footnotes on every page, where plenty of terms are explained, but also too much data and statistics are presented. Probably the reader will stop reading the monograph in order to follow the footnotes; or, the reader will dismiss the footnotes in general, thus being concentrated on the main body of the book/article. Therefore, the key to writing a footnote is balance: you should clarify only what needs to be explained. Let’s turn to some instructions on how to write a footnote; afterwards, you will become more familiar with what is required from you.
While writing a footnote you should adhere to the rules given below:
1. Use footnotes only when necessary
For example, you mention the name of a writer or scientist who is not so well-known. Then you can present a very short biography of him/her: when he/she was born and when passed away, what he/she did in his/her field. Add also a source of information. This footnote should not exceed four or five lines.
If you would like to define a special term (i.e. fallibilism) you need only to define it in one sentence. Let’s repeat again, it is not necessary to write a long footnote. The reader could find more information if you merely refer to a definite source.
2. Distribute the footnotes in order not to distract the reader
Just imagine that there is a footnote on every page! And can you imagine if there are two, or even three footnotes on each page? Unfortunately, some scientists and writers do it like that, and the reader should be hesitating what to read - the text or the footnotes. For that reason, we recommend to insert at most one footnote per two pages.
3. Be concise and punctual
Before writing the footnote, think what needs to be presented and defined. Use short sentences. Center your footnote on a specific term, phrase, or word, and put the latter in italics, or in bold.
4. Format correctly
Format the footnote according to the academic format required from you. This is very important, so do not dismiss the particular style of format required from your paper.
5. Use footnotes as references
There are cases when you present all of your references as footnotes instead of putting them in brackets. Some academic journals may ask you to do so; the Chicago style also recommends using footnotes as references. On the one hand, this allows the reader to follow the discussion manifested in the book without any distraction; on the other hand, it increases the number of pages (and consequently the price of the book will go up).
6. Review carefully
Having written your draft, review it again, especially your footnotes. If you conceive any of them unnecessary, just delete it or shorten its contents accordingly.
As you see, you should not underestimate your task. The art of writing footnotes is not taught by anyone other than the experience. The more you write, the more you know about this art.
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