Guide to Essay Writing - Footnotes
- 3.1 Footnotes, notes or endnotes
As a rule-of-thumb one could say that, although footnotes or notes are necessary, your interpretation should be able to stand without them. Thus, you should not carry on your main argument in footnotes. Generally speaking footnotes should be used to back up the argument by giving sources. Occasionally they can be used to present subsidiary arguments or useful details which would clutter your main argument.
Appendices can be useful in presenting a detailed argument the 'result' of which you can use in your text, (e.g. a complex argument about the disputed dating of a specific work). An appendix can also be used to provide detailed information which can then be used in a summarised form in the text (e.g. an essay on women artists of the 1970s might include an appendix of lists of exhibitions with an analysis of how many male and how many female artists exhibited). Appendices are best avoided in short essays.
- 3.2 Reference to footnotes/ notes
When to use notes is a question of judgement. As a general rule however, you should use them to indicate the sources of:
(i) facts which are not generally known or agreed upon
(ii) information which cannot be taken for granted (e.g., percentages of male and female artists in exhibitions in a certain year)
(iii) particular approaches or interpretations
(v) it is not necessary to footnotes facts which are generally known
- 3.3 Location of footnotes/ notes
Notes may be placed at the foot of the page ('footnotes') or at the end of an essay ('notes' or 'endnotes'). If you are writing a thesis of several chapters, place the notes at the end of the thesis, not at the end of a chapter (they can be difficult to find). If you have a great number of notes located together at the end of a long essay or thesis, it helps your reader if you indicate the pages or chapters to which they refer at the top of the page.
The most convenient reference to a note is numerical. The number should generally be placed at the end of a sentence or, if necessary to be very specific, at a break in the sentence (e.g. at a comma, a semi-colon or brackets.)
1. 'New Painting', exn cat., John Smith Gallery, London, 1-3 May, 1912
2. Not to be confused with Stampnich
3. Collected Works, London, 1980
- 3.4 form of footnotes/ notes. First reference
The first time you refer to a source you must give all bibliographic details. Subsequent references must be shortened.
Author's full name (or that of editor or compiler). In notes, the first name and/or initials precedes surnames. In a bibliography the surname comes first.
Complete title of book (exactly as given on title page, underlined or italicised)
Name of translator if any
Edition, if other than the first
Number of volumes
Date of publication (you can, if it is relevant, refer to the date of the first edition)
Volume number, if any
Page number(s) of particular citation
It is not necessary to list the publisher; if you do, be consistent and list the publisher for every entry.
Ludmilla Vachtova, Frank Kupka, London, 1967, 13-17*
*Sometimes you will find that the page reference is indicated by p. (page) or pp. (pages). Today, however, the tendency is simplified and the 'p' is often omitted.
Benedict Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Light, 2 vols, London, 1968, I, 95
Bernard Smith, Australian Painting 1788-1970, 2nd ed., Melbourne, 1971, 170
Periodicals, poems, chapters of books, essays and articles in collections, the rule is to use quotation marks when citing a reference that is part of a whole (an article is part of a journal; a chapter is part of a book, etc).
Author's full name (as with books)
Title of article (in quotation marks)
Name of the periodical (underline)
Volume number (if necessary)
Date of the issue
Page number(s) of the particular citation
Marianne W. Martin, 'Futurism, and Apollinaire, Art Journal, Spring 1979, 256
It is not necessary to give volume and issue numbers when a month and year are sufficient to identify the source. But one has to be careful of some northern hemisphere journals which use the seasons - which, of course, are different from ours.
Poems, chapters of books, essays and articles in collections
The same form applies as for articles.
1)Guillaume Apollinare, 'Zone', Oeuvres Poetiques, Paris 1962, 149; first published in Les Soirees de Paris, Nov. 1912, 24
2)Guillaume Apollinaire, 'Modern Painting', Apollinaire on Art: Essays, ed. Leroy C. Breunig, trans. Susan Sulleiman, London 1972; first published as 'La Peinture moderne, Der Sturm, Feb. 1913, 2-3
Title of exhibition catalogue
Museum/gallery or other location
City and date
Example: Fernand Leger, exh. cat., Musee des Arts decoratifs, Paris 1971, 65
The authors of a catalogue used not to be listed; today they are:
Example:Meda Mladek and Margit Rowell, Frantisek Kupka. 1871-1957. A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1975, 64
Authors full name
Title of thesis
Type of thesis
University or College
Date of thesis
Example: Lindsay Errington, Social and Religious Themes in English Art 1840-1860, Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1973
Since this entry is unpublished, the title is neither underlined nor given quotation marks.
- 3.5 Form of footnotes/notes: Subsequent references (incl. Latin abbreviations)
After the first full reference to a book, article, etc., subsequent references should be shortened. Enough information should be given to allow easy identification. For example:
5. Fernand Leger, exh. cat., Musee des Arts decoratifs (Paris, 1971), 65
6. Ludmilla Vachtova, Frank Kupka, London 1967, 13-17
7. Vachtova, Kupka, 75
8. Marianne W. Martin, 'Futurism, Unanimism and Apollinaire, Art Journal, Spring 1979, 256
9. Martin, 'Futurism, Unanimism and Apollinaire', 268
10. Ibid., 270 (if same page, Idem can be used)
Avoid using the Latin abbreviations 'op.cit.' or 'loc. cit'. Students almost invariably use them incorrectly. A shortened authors name and shortened title immediately gives the reader the unambiguous information that is required. 'Ibid' and 'idem' are more useful, but should be used only when the preceding note to which they refer is immediately visible - it is irritating if the reader has to search through the preceding pages to find the relevant note.
You do, however, need to recognise what these words signify as you will encounter them - particularly in older texts:
'ibid.' (Latin, ibidem = 'in the same place'); used when references to the same work follow one another (as in n. 10 above). A page reference is necessary. 'idem' (Latin = 'the same'); used to refer to the same reference and same page number (as in n. 10 above).
'op. cit.' (Latin, opere citato = 'in the work cited'); used to refer to an already cited book.
'loc. cit.' (Latin, loco citato = 'in the place cited'); as with op. cit. but used for the location of an article, poem, etc., in a book or journal.
- 3.6 Footnotes/endnotes conclusion
There are other more detailed conventions of usage, but the above information provides a basic guide. Remember that the conventions of footnotes are not designed simply to be irritating to the writer, but are a common language which will provide the reader with everything needed to locate your reference. It is worth mastering these conventions as soon as you can, as you can then relax and need not check up every time you make a note. Examiners or markers can become extremely irritated if they are not used correctly and may even give the essay back to you, reserving the mark until you have corrected them.