Skip to main content

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Footnotes or Endnotes?

The purpose of this guide is to provide advice on how to develop and organize a research paper in the social sciences.

Definition

Endnote
Note citing a particular source or making a brief explanatory comment placed at the end of a research paper and arranged sequentially in relation to where the reference appears in the paper.

Footnote
Note citing a particular source or making a brief explanatory comment placed at the bottom of a page corresponding to the item cited in the corresponding text above.

Structure and Writing Style

Advantages of Using Endnotes

  • Endnotes are less distracting to the reader and allows the narrative to flow better.
  • Endnotes don't clutter up the page.
  • As a separate section of a research paper, endnotes allow the reader to read and contemplate all the notes at once.

Disadvantages of Using Endnotes

  • If you want to look at the text of a particular endnote, you have to flip to the end of the research paper to find the information.
  • Depending on how they are created [i.e., continuous numbering or numbers that start over for each chapter], you may have to remember the chapter number as well as the endnote number in order to find the correct one.
  • Endnotes may carry a negative connotation much like the proverbial "fine print" or hidden disclaimers in advertising. A reader may believe you are trying to hide something by burying it in a hard-to-find endnote.

Advantages of Using Footnotes

  • Readers interested in identifying the source or note can quickly glance down the page to find what they are looking for.
  • It allows the reader to immediately link the footnote to the subject of the text without having to take the time to find the note at the back of the paper.
  • Footnotes are automatically included when printing off specific pages.

Disadvantages of Using Footnotes

  • Footnotes can clutter up the page and, thus, negatively impact the overall look of the page.
  • If there are multiple columns, charts, or tables below only a small segment of text that includes a footnote, then you must decide where the footnotes should appear.
  • If the footnotes are lengthy, there's a risk they could dominate the page, although this issue is considered acceptable in legal scholarship.

Things to keep in mind when considering using either endnotes or footnotes in your research paper:

1.    Footnotes are numbered consecutively throughout a research paper, except for those notes accompanying special material (e.g., figures, tables, charts, etc.). Numbering of footnotes are "superscript"--Arabic numbers typed slightly above the line of text. Do not include periods, parentheses, or slashes. They can follow all punctuation marks except dashes. In general, to avoid interrupting the continuity of the text, footnote numbers are placed at the end of the sentence, clause, or phrase containing the quoted or paraphrased material.

2.    Depending on the writing style used in your class, endnotes may take the place of a list of resources cited in your paper or they may represent non-bibliographic items, such as comments or observations, followed by a separate list of references to the sources you cited and arranged alphabetically by the author's last name. If you are unsure about how to use endnotes, consult with your professor.

3.    In general, the use of footnotes in most academic writing is now considered a bit outdated and has been replaced by endnotes, which are much easier to place in your paper, even with the advent of word processing programs. However, some disciplines, such as law and history, still predominantly utilize footnotes. Consult with your professor about which form to use and always remember that, whichever style of citation you choose, apply it consistently throughout your paper.

NOTE:  Always think critically about the information you place in a footnote or endnote. Ask yourself, is this supplementary or tangential information that would otherwise disrupt the narrative flow of the text or is this essential information that I should integrate into the main text? If you are not sure, it's better to work it into the text. Too many notes implies a disorganized paper.


Cermak, Bonni and Jennifer Troxell. A Guide to Footnotes and Endnotes for NASA History Authors. NASA History Program. History Division; Hale, Ali. Should You Use Footnotes or Endnotes? DailyWritingTips.com; Tables, Appendices, Footnotes and Endnotes. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Lunsford, Andrea A. and Robert Connors. The St. Martin's Handbook. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989; Saller, Carol. “Endnotes or Footnotes? Some Considerations.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 58 (January 6, 2012): http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2012/01/06/endnotes-or-footnotes-some-considerations/.