How to use footnotes in MLA

Share to Google Classroom

Sometimes when writing a paper, you have additional information that you want to include, but it won’t work well in the main text of your paper. This additional information also may not work as a parenthetical citation. In those cases, you can use footnotes in MLA Style. (Note that this article is for MLA. If you are curious about footnotes in APA style, see APA footnotes.)

What is a footnote?

A footnote is additional information that is added at the bottom of the page and indicated with a superscript number. Writers choose to add a footnote when the information would be distracting if it appeared in the main text. You may choose to add a footnote when you want to clarify a point or justify a point of view. Footnotes can also be used if you want to show another line of argument on the topic, or you want to show the differences between your work and others.

While MLA format does allow for footnotes, writers are encouraged to use footnotes sparingly.

How to use footnotes

There are two types of footnotes: bibliographical and content.

Bibliographical notes

Bibliographical notes add additional sources relevant to your thesis. Use these types of notes when your references are too long and citing all of them would interrupt your text. In the note you can cite a long string of sources. You can also use bibliographical notes to make comments on your sources and to identify areas of further research. Keep in mind, however, that references to a few authors’ names can also be put into a parenthetical citation in the text.

MLA style recommends that you use bibliographic notes sparingly.

Bibliographical notes
Text example: Catharine’s gender and utter helplessness should not immediately remind us of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), in spite of the resonance between the works’ titles (Magyarody 316).2
Footnote citation: 2 See Defoe, Daniel. The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner. The Novels of Daniel Defoe, edited by W. R. Owens, vol. 1, Pickering & Chatto, 2008. Further references are to this edition and appear in the text.

Content footnotes

Content footnotes offer information or commentary that doesn’t fit in your main text or offer a further explanation of the topic. Content footnotes also allow you to add background information that may be interesting to your readers or refer to other sources with more detail than in bibliographic notes.

Like bibliographic notes, MLA recommends that content notes should be used sparingly.

Content footnotes
Text example: The attendant restrictions of history bring the utopian possibilities generated by the group under scrutiny, particularly in regard to the historical and distinctly nonutopian interactions between settlers and Native Americans (Magyarody 320).9
Footnote citation: 9 According to my analysis of Kevin Carpenter’s bibliography of 378 nineteenth-century English Robinsonades in his Desert Isles and Pirate Islands, 18.2% take place in North America.

Endnotes vs. footnotes

The difference between a footnote and an endnote is its placement in the paper. Footnotes appear at the bottom of the same page where they are referenced.  Endnotes appear all together at the end of the paper in a list labeled Note(s) or Endnote(s). Endnotes are listed before the Works Cited page. You should ask your professors what style of notes are required in their classes.

Footnote format

Footnotes are formatted with superscript numbers that usually appear at the end of the sentence after the punctuation. You can also use a footnote in the middle of the sentence by placing the number directly after a punctuation mark. If you use a footnote in a sentence that has a dash, make sure the footnote number is placed before the dash. Footnotes should be numbered sequentially throughout the paper. Do not start over again at number 1 on each page.

The footnote citation at the bottom of the page should have the number, and it should also be in superscript. For the note itself, use the same font as the rest of your paper but in a smaller size. For example, if your paper is written in 12 pt. font, then your footnote should be in 10 pt. font. If you use a source in a footnote, you also need to include it in the Works Cited list at the end of your paper.

Works Cited

Magyarody, Katherine. “‘Sacred Ties of Brotherhood’: The Social Mediation of Imperial Ideology in The Last of the Mohicans and Canadian Crusoes.” Nineteenth-Century Literature, vol. 71, no. 3, 2016, pp. 315–342. JSTOR,

MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2021.

Published October 27, 2020. Updated July 18, 2021.

By Catherine Sigler. Catherine has a Ph.D. in English Education and has taught college-level writing for 15 years.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

How do I use an endnote in MLA?

To use endnotes in your paper, you need to follow the guidelines provided below:

General points

Use superscript Arabic numerals to number the endnote citations in the text. You can use your word processor’s notes feature so that the numbering is generated automatically.

Do not use the ibid abbreviation in endnotes.

The title of the endnote page at the end of your paper can be “Notes” or “Endnotes.”

If you want to add any citations within the note, include the page numbers in parentheses at the end of the sentence or at a natural breaking point.

Endnotes in the text

Place endnote indicators after any punctuation marks as in the examples below:

The work was compared with the literature study.1

As Vivekananda said, “Education is the manifestation of divinity already in man.”2

However, if you have a dash, place endnote indicator before the dash.

Drawing to the point mentioned by Shakespeare3—a dramatist, poet, and actor—we conclude that true love persists till the end of the doom’s day.

Other points

Multiple endnotes within a sentence are allowed. However, place them wisely to ensure clarity.

An endnote citation can appear in the middle of a sentence if the sentence warrants that placement for clarity, but insert the endnote in the least distracting (but unambiguous) place.

Does MLA style use footnotes or endnotes?

While MLA only uses endnotes in its publications, notes may be styled as footnotes or as endnotes.