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How to use footnotes

Footnotes seem to be the trickiest part of any course.  WHEN is very challenging which is why there is a separate guide for that.  Since  citations actually come with rules and rules books, the HOW is generally easier.  This guide will give you some vocabulary and overview information to help.[1]

[1]  Adding a footnote here for demonstration purposes. You should NOT put actual information in your footnotes, only citation information.


Every profession has professional literature and each has a style that it uses for its citations.  History and the social sciences use Chicago style almost exclusively.  Their style guide is called the Turabian Manual.  You should find out what your specialty uses and learn that style.  You can use an online guide for one-off classes that require something different.[1]  This Chicago Style guide, for instance, is good, but does not have everything necessary to work through a complete webpage citation:

Most college classes use Chicago style.  It was designed for academics rather than professional works.  The Chicago style manual gives two versions of each citation, a bibliographic citation and a footnote.


A bibliography comes at the end of your work and is a list of all the items you used to discover your information.  It contains all of the works you referenced in the body of your work, including any image sources.  It is organized in alphabetical order, by author, and items are hung.  Each entry is single spaced, but there is one space between entries.

To create a bibliography, go to the end of your document and enter a page break.  At the top of the new page and type BIBLIOGRAPHY in all caps and center the heading.  This creates your start point. 

Bibliographical Notations

These are the individual items within a bibliography.  Bibliographical notations are not centered, they are aligned on the left and hung.  You hang paragraphs by going to HOME tab, then the paragraph settings.  Under indentations choose hanging.  This is an example of a hung paragraph.  The first line is at the margin and the rest is indented.  All entries should be alphabetical, single spaced, and have one space between entries.


Footnotes go inside the work itself and are used to indicate specific pieces of information that you need to give credit to someone else for.  These include statistics, ideas, photographs, direct quotes, and many other things.  At the end of every sentence that contains a piece of information you acquired from someone else you need to give them credit.  Yes, this can add up to a lot of footnotes.  Since you are getting most of the information for a paper from external sources, there should be at least one footnote in every paragraph.

When formatting footnotes, each one gets its own number, in sequence.[2]  No matter how many times you use the same source, you issue a new number each time you use it.[3]  If you use a source more than once, you can use an abbreviated version that contains the author’s name, as much of the title as necessary to distinguish it from other work, and the page number, if applicable.[4]  If there is a different page number, indicate that.[5]  Many of you may have seen Ibid. used.  This requires care because it means that you are repeating the source directly before it.  Very often editing causes citations to be moved, changing the previous entry and making the Ibid. no longer valid.[6]  Clarity is always better so using the abbreviated version is recommended.  When using a source multiple times, it does not matter if there is something else between uses.[7]  When you go back to one you have already used, use the abbreviated form that includes the author’s last name and enough of the title to distinguish it from all other works.[8]  ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS include the page number with the footnote.

Basic Format:

Most classes make an assumption that all your source material will be found online.  That means that ALL citations must have an accessed date and URL.  It is a good idea to clarify with your professor when you use specific non-internet sources. They will look like they are missing information.

[1]  Yet another new footnote.  Notice they are at the END of sentences.

[2]  John Williamson,  “Federal Aid to Roads and Highways Since the 18th Century:  A Legislative History.”  Congressional Research Service, 7–5700,  January 6, 2012,  4,  accessed October 2, 2016,

[3]  John Williamson,  “Federal Aid to Roads and Highways Since the 18th Century:  A Legislative History.”  Congressional Research Service, 7–5700,  January 6, 2012,  4,  accessed October 2, 2016,

[4]  Williamson, “Federal Aid to Roads and Highways,” 8.

[5]  Williamson, “Federal Aid to Roads and Highways,” 19.

[6]  Ibid., 27.

[7]  Tom Winterbottom,  “Stanford Professor Traces Roots of the Psychedelic ‘60s to Postwar America,”  Stanford Report, February 3, 2014,  accessed June 30, 2018,

[8]  Williamson, “Federal Aid to Roads and Highways,” 11.

Tips and examples for Chicago Style:

For webpages:

Footnote:  Author name (first name first), “Article name,” Title/journal name (this is the webpage but not the URL, i.e. Smithsonian not, Date of Publication, page number, accessed date, URL.

Bibliographical notation:  Author name (last name first).  “Article name.”  Title (this is the webpage but not the URL, i.e. Smithsonian not  Date of Publication.  page number.  Accessed date.  URL.  This paragraph is formatted as hanging.  Every bibliographical notation needs to be hung.

Notice that the information in both forms is in the same order, but in the footnote, commas separate each item and there is a period at the end, the ‘a’ in accessed is lower case and the first name is first.  In the bibliography, periods separate each element, the ‘A’ in accessed is capitalized, and the last name is first.  All citations end in a period.

Keep in mind that books and articles are cited exactly as they would be if you had a hard copy in your hand.  You are just going to add an accessed date and URL.

There will be some acceptable sources from the general internet, such as primary sources.  With internet pages, you may have to adapt the information somewhat.  Use what is available.  If an author name or date of publication is not right at the top, you can scroll all of the way to the bottom.  If there is no information, it is simply left out.  Do NOT enter something like author unknown.  Chicago style does not include extraneous information.

You will always need to enter the date you accessed the information.  Finally, you will need to enter the URL of the site.  In this example, the information comes from a museum.  Museum do not typically give credit to a specific author.

“First Transcontinental Motor Convoy, 1919.”  U.S. Army Transportation Museum.  Accessed 25 October 2016.

“First Transcontinental Motor Convoy, 1919,”  U.S. Army Transportation Museum,  accessed 25 October 2016,


Notice the similarities between the bibliographical notation and the footnote.  In both, there are quotation marks around the article name and the italics for the title.  Notice that the title/publisher name is not a web page/URL. 

Notice the differences between the bibliographical notation and the footnote.  In the footnote you should have commas between each item and a period only at the end.  Notice the lower case ‘a’ in the word “accessed.”  In bibliographical notations, it is capitalized. 

Other footnote tips:

Under no circumstances is a URL alone ever a footnote.

The links must work and the work you are citing must be on the link you say it is.

Ibid. is Latin for “in the same place.”  It is an abbreviation (for ibidim) so it always gets a period.  You can use it when you are using the same source twice (or more) in a row.  If you need to change the page number, use a comma.


Ibid., 209.

You do not have to use Ibid.  Many people like to abbreviate, but many others prefer clarity and choose to use the author/title abbreviation alternative.  MSWord keeps Ibid. once you have used it.  If you move the text, the citation moves with it.  Word does not care what was above it before.  The Ibid. is there even if the new footnote in front of it is something different.  Now your citation is incorrect.  If you plan to use Ibid., you should leave regular citations in place until the final draft so edits don’t cause the true source to get lost.

If you do not use Ibid. you should use an abbreviated version of the citation.  That is the author’s last name and enough of the title to clearly identify it.  Don’t forget the page number.  When you get into larger papers and have authors with the same last name or multiple works by the same author the rules change, but by then you can look them up yourself.

Stay organized!  Insert the footnotes as you go.

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