Footnotes may not be a critical aspect of writing, but they can be extremely useful for reducing clutter without having to excise important asides or explanations — a practice that can be handy in academic writing and elsewhere as well.
Footnotes can also make your work appear more professional, which lends to your credibility as a writer and/or researcher. Unfortunately a lot of writers don’t know how to make footnotes in documents, and that’s a shame because it’s actually rather simple.
We’ll be using Microsoft Word 2016 for this post, but a lot of the concepts are compatible with previous versions and other word processors. Still, there are good reasons to start using Word 2016, including a handful of productivity-boosting features, so consider it if you can.
When to Use Footnotes
To begin, let’s clear up some common confusions regarding what footnotes actually are.
- Footnotes are notes at the bottom of the current page that provide extra commentary or insight on a particular word or phrase in the main text body.
- Endnotes are notes at the end of an entire chapter, document, or book that serve the same purpose as footnotes without affecting page layouts.
- Citations can be either footnotes or endnotes but they point to references and resources rather than additional commentary or insight.
Not sure if it’s worth your time and effort to learn how to properly make and use footnotes? Here are a few scenarios where they might prove useful:
- Parenthetical explanations — When you’re writing a research paper or essay, you may want to expound on a point that isn’t critical and without distracting readers who already know. Footnotes are cleaner than parentheticals.
- Word count limits — When submitting to an academic or legal journal, for example, you may need to adhere to a maximum word count — and because these limits usually don’t count footnotes, this is one way to get more of your thoughts in.
- Quotes and attributions — If you ever include a direct quote in your paper, you’ll need to cite it. There are many ways to do this, but the easiest is to simply mark the quote with a footnote that attributes the quote to whatever resource it came from.
- Literary device — Fictional writers have used footnotes in inventive ways, such as to flesh out the details of fantasy worlds, to break the fourth wall, or even to inject comical remarks and asides.
The Chicago Style of Footnotes
Once you’ve decided to learn and use footnotes, you’ll need to decide on which style of footnotes works best for you when citing or attributing: APA, MLA, Chicago, and others.
For this post, we’ll focus on the Chicago style, 16th edition:
- Footnote numbers begin with 1 and increase in consecutive order with every additional footnote.
- Footnote numbers go at the end of clauses or sentences. If punctuation is involved, footnote numbers go after all punctuation.
- Footnote numbers are superscripted.
- In the footnote itself, begin with the footnote number followed by a period or begin with the footnote number as a superscript with the rest of the footnote in full size.
- The first line of a footnote is indented by 0.5″. The rest of the footnote should be flush along the left with that first line indent.
- Footnotes should be separated by empty lines.
- If a footnote contains both citation and annotation, the citation comes first and is separated from the annotation by a single period.
Pretty simple, right? The actual citation guidelines are a bit more complex and differ depending on the type of resource you’re citing, so consult the Chicago Manual of Style. You can use automatic citation apps to make the footnote creation process easier.
Here’s an example of a footnote in action, showing both the body text and the footnote itself, taken and modified from A Research Guide:
How to Use Footnotes in Word
And now for the pièce de résistance: how to actually incorporate these footnotes into your Word documents. The good news is that this is the easiest part!
As it turns out, Word automates most of the footnote process so you don’t have to worry about any of the formatting — most of your energy will be focused on staying true to whichever style you’re using.
Here are the steps to take:
- Place your cursor in the body text where you want the footnote superscript to appear.
- Select the References tab in the ribbon toolbar.
- Click Insert Footnote. This will immediately bring you to the bottom of the page with the right footnote number to use.
- Type your footnote according to style.
- Repeat the process for every additional footnote. Word will automatically increment the number for you.
To use endnotes instead of footnotes, click Insert Endnote instead of Insert Footnote. It’s really that simple.
Here’s a neat trick to know: If you hover your mouse over a footnote number in the body text, a tooltip will appear with the full footnote — so you don’t have to keep scrolling up and down to check footnotes as you read or write.
Here’s another trick: Press F5 to bring up the Go To tab of the Find and Replace window. Select Footnote and type in the number of the footnote you want to edit, and Word will immediately take you to the page it’s on.
Other Microsoft Office Tricks to Learn
This is just one of many features in Word that can make your writing life easier. Consider incorporating these Word productivity hacks, these hidden Word features, and these little-known Word tricks into your workflow for a real, tangible boost.
And if you consider yourself an Office newbie, we highly recommend these amazing resources for learning Office 2016. You might be surprised by how much you don’t actually know!