How to use footnotes in MLA

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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 new information also may not work as a parenthetical citation. In those cases, you can use footnotes in MLA Style.

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 Style 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’ titles2 (Magyarody 316)
Footnote citation: 2 See Daniel Defoe, The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner, ed. W. R. Owens, vol. 1 of The Novels of Daniel Defoe (London: 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 offers 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 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 regards to the historical and distinctly nonutopian interactions between settlers and Native Americans.9 (Magyarody 320)
Footnote citation: 9According 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). Endnotes are listed before the Works Cited page. You should ask your professors what style of notes are allowed 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. 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 need to include it in the Works Cited 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, www.jstor.org/stable/26377183.

MLA Handbook. 8th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2016.


Published October 27, 2020.

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


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