FORMATTING & APA Hint: Are Footnotes Necessary? No, not really.

by Bob Whitesel Ph.D., 7/17/15.

Oftentimes students are accustomed to utilizing footnotes in their work.  But, in APA footnotes are rare (and this makes it easier and faster for them to write a paper).

Let me paraphrase from the APA Style Guide some insights on when footnotes might be necessary.

Because APA style uses parenthetical citations, you do not need to use footnotes or endnotes to cite your sources. The only reasons you need to use footnotes are for explanatory (content) notes or copyright permission. Content footnotes contain information that supplements the text, but would be distracting or inappropriate to include in the body of the paper. In other words, content footnotes provide important information that is a tangent to what you are discussing in your paper.

And, the footnote should only express one idea. If it is longer than a few sentences, then you should consider putting this information in an appendix.

Most authors do not use footnotes because they tend to be distracting to the readers. If the information is important, authors find a way to incorporate it into the text itself or put it in an appendix.

And, if you are including a quote that is longer than 500 words or a table or figure in your paper that was originally published elsewhere, then you need to include a footnote that acknowledges that you have permission from the owner of the copyright to use the material.

Format of footnotes

In the text, place a superscript numeral immediately after the text about which you would like to include more information (e.g., Scientists examined the fossilized remains of the wooly-wooly yak. – followed by a superscript 1).  Number the notes consecutively in the order they appear in your paper.

At the end of the paper, create a separate page labeled Notes (title centered at the top of the page) and add the note text. Technically, you write these footnotes as endnotes, but they will appear as footnotes in the published paper.

Below are examples of content notes.

1. See Blackmur (1995), especially chapters three and four, for an insightful analysis of this extraordinary animal.

2. On the problems related to yaks, see Wollens (1989, pp. 120-135); for a contrasting view, see Pyle (1992).

3. In a recent interview, she (Weller, 1998) reiterated this point even more strongly: “I am an artist, not a yak!” (p. 124).