Footnotes vs. Endnotes: Difference and When to Use Them

Updated: Oct 31, 2016

In higher education, students are required to write papers that incorporate a multitude of sources. And when they do so, the student must cite these sources, in order to give credit to any source they borrowed, summarized or paraphrased. The incorporation of sources adds depth, clarity and a sense of professionalism to one’s paper. And to avoid plagiarism, the student MUST cite every single source they use, or else they risk failing the assignment or worse: expulsion.

In most instances, the writer of a paper must use in-text citations, such as: (Thompson, 1998, p. 199). This, of course, applies to the MLA (Modern Language Association) style, which is used for most commonly to write papers and cite sources within the Liberal Arts or the Humanities, as well as for the APA (American Psychological Association) style, with is used to cite sources within the Social Sciences. These two styles are most commonly used in higher education.

And whenever a student needs to provide supplementary or explanatory notes when they are citing a source in an academic paper, they either use footnotes or endnotes. The main difference between the two is the placement of the notes: footnotes are placed numerically at the foot (the bottom) of the very same page where direct references are made; while endnotes are placed numerically at the end of the essay or published work on a separate page entitled “Endnotes” or just “Notes,” which can be found just before the Bibliography or Works Cited page.

Footnotes and endnotes are used because long explanatory notes are rather distracting for the reader. In many books and papers, both are often used – though it is rare, unnecessary and redundant for a writer to use both simultaneously in the same work. If a note is needed, either to further explain a point, translate a word or phrase, or as a digression to explain why perhaps a writer used a certain source in a certain case, it may be easier for the reader to glance down at the bottom of the page they are a currently reading as opposed to turning to the back of the book to read the explanatory note. Both styles, APA and MLA, allow for both kinds of notes – endnotes and footnotes – although MLA recommends that all notes be listed on a separate page entitled “Notes.” Both style types, however, recommend limited use of both kinds of notes. But the student writing an essay or paper would probably, for efficiency reasons, want to use footnotes. The inclusion to include either kind depends on the student writing the essay or the preference of the student’s professor who will be ultimately evaluating the essay or paper.

Here are a few examples of bibliographic notes (which can either be endnotes or footnotes), which refer to cited publications a reader may wish to consult:

1. See Blackmur, especially chapters 3 and 4, for an insightful analysis of this trend.

2. On the problems related to repressed memory recovery, see Wollens 120-35; for a contrasting view, see Pyle 43; Johnson, Hull, Snyder 21-35; Krieg 78-91.

3. Several other studies point to this same conclusion. See Johnson and Hull 45-79, Kather 23-31, Krieg 50-57.

Also, endnotes and footnotes are occasionally used for explanatory notes (also known as content notes), to refer to brief, additional information that may digress from the main text:

4. In a 1998 interview, she reiterated this point even more strongly: "I am an artist, not a politician!" (Weller 124).

There are also cases when footnotes are indicated not by enumeration but symbols. In Anton Chekhov’s Ward No. 6 and Other Stories, published and translated by Barnes and Noble Classics, this occurs in the next to last paragraph in part V of his short story Ward No. 6: … Pushkin* suffered terrible agonies before his death …

And at the bottom of the page, the footnote reads:*The great Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin (1799-1837).

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