FOOTNOTES: A GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED ©
Christopher R. Friedrichs
Department of History
University of British Columbia
WHY ARE FOOTNOTES NECESSARY?
Footnotes are provided for any or all of the following reasons:
- TO GIVE THE SOURCE OF A STATEMENT, STATISTIC OR QUOTATION WHOSE ACCURACY OR AUTHENTICITY THE READER MAY WISH TO VERIFY.
Statements of obvious fact on which all authors seem to agree need not normally be footnoted. But a statement, statistic, quotation or other item which appears only in a single source must be footnoted.
- TO HELP THE READER LOCATE A SOURCE HE OR SHE MAY WISH TO CONSULT IN ORDER TO OBTAIN FURTHER INFORMATION ON THE SUBJECT.
Often the reader wants to check your source not because it seems dubious but because it seems interesting. A footnote helps the reader track down the information.
- TO SHOW THAT A SENTENCE OR SIGNIFICANT PHRASE WAS WRITTEN NOT BY YOU BUT BY SOMEBODY ELSE.
If the wording of a sentence or an extended phrase in your paper is exactly like that of your source, it is a direct quotation: it should be put in quotation marks and a footnote should be provided. If the wording of a sentence or an extended phrase in your paper is similar to that of your source, but not exactly the same, it is a paraphrase: it should not be put in quotation marks, but it must still be footnoted. Remember: BOTH QUOTATIONS AND PARAPHRASES MUST BE PROPERLY FOOTNOTED.
WHY SHOULD I PROVIDE FOOTNOTES WHEN MANY OF THE BOOKS I READ DO NOT?
Many of the books you may read and use, particularly textbooks of a general character, do not provide footnotes. This is generally because they are written by eminent scholars who are well-known experts in their fields and whose authority to make the statements they make is widely recognized. Until and unless you become recognized as an eminent scholar, you must follow the standard rules which require that you provide footnotes for the material you use. These are the rules which scholars follow most of the time, especially when they are writing books and articles of a non-general character. They follow these rules for the three reasons given above, and so should you.
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FOOTNOTES AND ENDNOTES?
Not really. Footnotes appear at the bottom of the page. Endnotes appear all grouped together at the end of the paper. Their actual purpose, function and style are the same either way. This Guide treats "footnotes" and "endnotes" as synonyms.
HOW MANY FOOTNOTES SHOULD I PROVIDE?
This is one of the most difficult questions to answer. It is recognized that students may make minor errors in judgement in deciding whether or not a particular statement requires a footnote. But the basic rules are clear. Remember, it is not necessary to provide footnotes for statements of undisputed fact ("Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island of Corsica in 1769"). Nor is it necessary to provide footnotes for very broad generalizations which you have arrived at on the basis of consulting numerous sources ("Napoleon had a very complex personality"). But it is necessary to provide footnotes for the reasons and in the circumstances listed under headings 1 to 3 above. By and large, when in doubt it is safer to provide too many footnotes than too few.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO GIVE EXACT PUBLICATION DATA IN A FOOTNOTE?
The purpose of a footnote is to help the reader locate the exact book or article you used. The more precisely the publication data are provided, the more efficiently the book or journal can be located. Many books are published in different versions or editions, or in translations. In such cases, you must give sufficient information to show the reader which edition or translation you used.
DO I HAVE TO GIVE ALL THIS INFORMATION EACH TIME I CITE THE SAME SOURCE?
Certainly not! You only have to give the full publication data the first time you cite that source in a footnote. After that, you can refer to that source in an abbreviated form. For example, if a footnote refers to the same source as is cited in the immediately preceding footnote, simply write "ibid." (Latin for: in the same place), followed by the relevant page number. If referring to a source mentioned in some earlier footnote, simply give the author's name and a short version of the title, followed by the relevant page number.
WHAT IF I USE A BOOK WHICH HAS CHAPTERS OR SELECTIONS BY MANY AUTHORS?
Keep in mind that the reader will want to know the author and the title of the particular passage or selection you used as well as the editor and title of the whole collection. So your first reference must give the author and title of the particular article or chapter you are citing as well as the usual information for the book as a whole (see example below). Subsequent references to that article or chapter can just give the author and title (in short form) and the page number.
WHAT IF I AM QUOTING FROM SOMETHING LIKE THE BIBLE OR SHAKESPEARE?
Some classics of world literature have been published in so many editions that it may be more convenient for the reader to check an edition he or she has handy than to track down the particular edition you used. In a case like that, it is generally more useful to cite the passage by some method applicable to all versions, such as chapter and verse, or act and scene number. Still, the first reference to that work should indicate the particular version you consulted, just in case the reader does find it necessary to locate that edition.
WHAT ABOUT NON-PRINT SOURCES LIKE THE INTERNET?
There are two kinds of "Internet sources."
The first kind consists of scholarly materials -- articles in professional journals, digitized primary sources (e.g. historic newspapers) or scholarly books -- which can be accessed through the Internet. These can be used and cited just as you might use and cite versions of the same material printed on paper.
The second kind consists of material on a websites specifically devoted to some historical topic. As you know, such Internet sites should be used with caution as sources of historical information, but some sites can be very useful. The material on a website is likely to be more reliable if the authors are specifically named and if those authors are recognized scholars or authorities on the subject. The website of a university, research center, library or museum is almost always more reliable than a site produced by an individual hobbyist.
If you use an Internet source, give the best possible description of the authorship and title of the specific page as well as the name of the whole website. Also give the exact URL for the page you used and the date on which you accessed it.
Likewise, if you use material from a DVD, CD-ROM or video, give the most precise information you can about the title, author or producer, publisher or distributor, and date of the material.
WHAT ABOUT PRINTED BOOKS OR JOURNAL ARTICLES WHICH I HAVE ACCESSED ONLINE?
Sometimes regular books or journals are available both in print and online. This is quite different from content which is created specifically as a website. If you are using a book or journal that has a regular print edition, even if you happen to access it online, it is acceptable to cite it the way you would cite a printed book or journal article. But if you are in doubt about whether the book or journal also appeared in print, to be on the safe side you should also add the information which shows how it was accessed online.
SUPPOSE THE SOURCE I AM USING CITES ANOTHER SOURCE: WHICH ONE DO I CITE?
Always cite the source from which you actually obtained the information. If the book or article you used shows that some material actually came from an earlier source, you may want to show what that original source was. But if so, you must add the phrase "as cited by" or "as quoted by" and show the exact source from which you actually got the information. The footnote might look like this:
Robert Daniels, Red October (New York: Scriber's, 1967), as quoted by Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 62.
In most cases the reference to the original source is not even necessary as long as you show what page(s) of what book or article you actually got the material from. The footnote could look like this:
As quoted by Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 62.
HOW DO I CITE SOMETHING I HEARD IN A LECTURE?
In some rare cases, you might want to refer to a fact or an opinion you heard in a class lecture or a lecture by some visitor to the university. If so, you could show the source in a footnote like this:
Prof. John Doe, Lecture in History 436 (European Social History), University of British Columbia, 15 October 2010.
Dr. Mary Roe, "The Importance of African History," public lecture given at the University of British Columbia, 22 October 2010.
WHAT ABOUT PICTURES OR GRAPHICS?
Just follow the basic rule. If your paper includes any illustrations or graphic material copied from a book, article, web site or the like, give the exact source from which you copied that material.
WHERE DO THE FOOTNOTES GO?
The reference to the footnote is made with a raised number at the end of the relevant sentence or passage in your text. As for the footnotes themselves, it is usually more convenient for the reader to find them at the bottom of the page. But it may be more convenient for you to group all the footnotes together at the end of the paper as endnotes, and this is almost always considered acceptable.
FINALLY: WHICH STYLE OF FOOTNOTING SHOULD BE USED?
There are many different styles of footnoting. Many scholars use the so-called MLA or APA styles. However, most historians prefer the "humanistic" or "Chicago" style, because it avoids cluttering up the text with long notes in parentheses. The style used in the examples on the following page is the "Chicago" style most commonly used by historians in North America. It is the style you should normally use for history papers.
The main exception would occur when you are writing a paper based entirely on a single source, as for example in a book review or an analysis of a single text. In that case you could give the full bibliographical information in a heading at the beginning of the paper and supply the page references in parentheses in the text of your paper, like this: (p. 3).
EXAMPLES OF STANDARD FOOTNOTE STYLE
Susan Naquin, Peking: Temples and City Life, 1400-1800 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000), p. 183.
Donatella Calabi, The Market and the City: Square, Street and Architecture in Early Modern Europe, trans. by Marlene Klein (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2004), pp. 123-24.
Particular edition of a book:
Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 72.
Michael Roberts, Gustavus Adolphus: A History of Sweden, 1611-1632, 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1953-1958), vol. 2, pp. 239-41.
Article or chapter within a book containing chapters or contributions by many authors:
Bernard Pares, "Rasputin and the Empress Alexandra," in Arthur E. Adams, ed., The Russian Revolution and Bolshevik Victory: Why and How (Boston: D.C. Heath and Co., 1960), p. 9.
Article in a journal:
Laura McGough, “Women, Private Property and the Limitations of State Authority in Early Modern Venice,” Journal of Women’s History, 14 (2002), 36.
Anon., "Assassination of President Lincoln: The House of Commons and the News from America," The Times (London), April 27, 1865, p. 7.
Museum of London website: “18th-Century London: Colonization and Political Change”: http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/learning/features_facts/eighteenth.html (accessed 21 May, 2008).
Typical sequence of footnotes in which works are cited more than once:
6. Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), p. 116.
7. Ibid., p. 119.
8. John B. Wolf, Louis XIV (New York: Norton, 1968), p. 203.
9. Burke, Popular Culture, p. 127.
10. Ibid., p. 128.
11. Laura McGough, “Women, Private Property and the Limitations of State Authority in Early Modern Venice,” Journal of Women’s History, 14 (2002), 36.
12. Wolf, Louis XIV, p. 209.
13. Ibid., pp. 213-14.
14. McGough, "Women, Private Property," 37-39.
...AND BY THE WAY, WHAT ABOUT BIBLIOGRAPHIES?
Most essays and papers that you are likely to write will also require a bibliography listing the books and articles you have consulted. Normally a bibliography lists all the books and articles in alphabetical order according to the authors' last names. In the case of articles, give the page number of the whole article. Some examples are given below.
EXAMPLES OF STANDARD BIBLIOGRAPHY STYLE
Calabi, Donatella. The Market and the City: Square, Street and Architecture in Early Modern Europe, trans. by Marlene Klein (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2004).
Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).
McGough, Laura. “Women, Private Property and the Limitations of State Authority in Early Modern Venice,” Journal of Women’s History, 14 (2002), 32-52.
Monter, E. William. "Witchcraft in Geneva, 1537-1662," Journal of Modern History, 43 (1971), 186-99.
Naquin, Susan. Peking: Temples and City Life, 1400-1800 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000).
Pares, Bernard. "Rasputin and the Empress Alexandra," in Arthur E. Adams, ed., The Russian Revolution and Bolshevik Victory: Why and How (Boston: D.C. Heath and Co, 1960), 9-20.
Tuchman, Barbara. The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 (New York: Macmillan, 1962).
Footnote guide © 2010 Christopher R. Friedrichs