Footnotes vs. Endnotes: When to Use Them

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The topic of footnotes vs. endnotes involves deciding where to place supplemental or citation information. Both types of notes may be required in place of using in-text citations, or either type can be used in conjunction with in-text citations. If using footnotes or using endnotes is not a requirement, you may elect to use either.

Both footnotes and endnotes are used to note the following information:

  • Bibliographical information
  • Copyright permission
  • Explanatory information:
  • Supplemental (but related) information
  • Sources to explore a topic further
  • Expansion on a specific idea or thought
  • Background information

The biggest difference between footnotes and endnotes is where the notes are placed. Footnotes appear at the bottom of the page for any notes that apply to each specific page; endnotes appear collectively at the end of a paper, starting on a separate page and labeled as “Endnotes.”

Similarities between footnotes and endnotes

While the location differs for each, footnotes and endnotes have a few things in common.

  • Both references are placed at the end of the sentence, phrase or quotation in which they appear to minimize the interruption in the flow of your words.
  • Both are noted with consecutive, superscript numerals.
  • Both require the matching numeral to appear at the beginning of the actual footnote or endnote.

Before using footnotes or using endnotes, you must understand the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Using footnotes – advantages

The advantages of using footnotes include the following:

  • When your readers want to look at the information in a footnote, they simply have to look at the bottom of the page.
  • Your readers have instant access to the citation or a supplemental thought, idea or concept that is closely related to the material in which the footnote appears.
  • Your footnotes are printed on each page when you print your research paper; no additional printing is necessary.

Using footnotes – disadvantages

Similarly, there are disadvantages to using footnotes as well, including the following:

  • When you have a higher number of footnotes on a single page, they can make your paper appear cluttered or difficult to read.
  • If the information in some footnotes is too lengthy, the footnotes may dominate the page and distract from your paper.

Using endnotes – advantages

Using endnotes brings several advantages.

  • Endnotes are not as distracting and do not clutter the pages of your paper.
  • Endnotes let your readers look over and digest citations and notes as a whole since they are all in one place.

Using endnotes – disadvantages

There are also disadvantages to using endnotes:

  • When readers want to look at the information in a specific endnote as they read, they must go to the end of your research paper.
  • If you use endnotes that re-number within each chapter or section, you must remember which corresponding number goes along with that number in each chapter.
  • When you use endnotes, readers might see it as misleading or that you are trying to hide information by making it difficult to find at the end of your paper.

If you are not required to use or prohibited from using footnotes or endnotes, you can evaluate which suits your purposes better. For some papers under specific guidelines or instructor instructions, you may be able to use endnotes or footnotes in place of a list of references. Footnotes are mostly considered outdated, but some fields or instructors require their use.

When using footnotes and using endnotes, use care to format them properly. The specific formatting depends on the official style guide you are required to follow. Think critically about every piece of information for which you use these types of notes. For supplemental information, ask yourself if the information is disruptive or not closely related enough to keep it in the body of the text or if the information is vital enough to put directly in the text. When you are not sure, include the information in the text. As with anything, the overuse of footnotes or endnotes hurts the strength of your paper.