Technique of writing footnotes

UNIT-9 [ Lesson-1: Technique of writing footnotes ]

After reading this lesson you will be able to:

  • say what a footnote is,
  • recognise a footnote,
  • describe the techniques of writing footnotes, and
  • write footnotes.

Technique of writing footnotes


The footnote is a traditional method of acknowledging sources in a piece of writing. It provides additional comments and information which support the facts and proposals contained in the text. It indicates different points of view expressed by different experts in a field. It can also encourage readers to do further study on the source materials referred to.


Technique of writing footnotes


The techniques

The book entry

The reference is placed at the bottom of the page and keyed with the text material.

Example :

Text : The grammar of a language can be defined as a device that specifies sets of sentences1 ………..

Footnote :

1. Noam Chomsky, Definition of grammar, Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, The Hague: Mouton, 1964, p.9.

If you look at the example you will find:

(1) A superscript (a raised Arabic number) i.e. 1 is common in both the text and the footnote. This is how the reference (i.e. footnote) is keyed with the text material with the help of a number.

(2) The author’s name (i.e. Noam Chomsky is written in normal order.

(3) After the author’s name comes the chapter name i.e. Definition of grammar. The chapter name has been mentioned because the chapter title is likely to help the readers find the source. However, the chapter name is not always necessary to mention.

(4) The book title i.e. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory is written in italics. Sometimes the book title is indicated with underscoring.

(5) The publishing company i.e. Mouton is written with the location of the publisher, i.e., the Hague.

(6) The year of publication, i.e., 1964 mentioned as the publication date of the book. But if a book is revised, the year of the latest revision should be mentioned. e.g. 1975, 3rd edition.

(7) Finally the page, i.e., p.9 is mentioned. If more than one page contain the reference they should be mentioned in this way: pp. 37-42.

There are certain other important things which you should remember while writing footnotes:

  • Footnotes are written single spaced just like the text.
  • The superscripts should be sequenced by page, by chapter or by the whole work. In our example there is only one number. But if there are three superscripts, the numbers will be in regular order, i.e., 1 2 3; and the footnotes also will come in the same order and on the same page. If the next page is part of the same unit/chapter the superscript numbers may continue from the previous page i.e., ………….. 4, 5 (etc.) or fresh numbers starting from 1 may be used. This is how the numbering is sequenced by page, by chapter or by the whole work.


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The periodical/newspaper article entry

Periodical/newspaper article entries slightly differ from those of the book entries. Notice the differences:

(1) Sometimes the author’s name is not given. In that case you can either put anonymous or just mention the agency/source or the type of the article, for example, Reuter, Associated Press, Editorial etc.

(2) Give the Article title within inverted commas, followed by the periodical/newspaper title.

(3) In the case of periodical, give the volume number.



1 Iain Macklilliam, ”Video and language comprehension”, FLT journal, Vol. 40/2, April 1986, pp. 131 – 135.


2 Reuter, ”Ulysses flies over both Poles of the Sun”, The Bangladesh Observer, August 10, 1995, p.10.

Abbreviated footnotes

(1) An abbreviated footnote contains the author’s last name and the year of publication in brackets immediately after the text material referred to. However, page numbers may be placed after the date
of publication.


(Blundell, 1983)

Or (Blundell, 1983, p. 171)

(2) If there are two or three authors put only their last names.


(Lesikar and Pettit, 1994)

(3) If there are more than three authors put the last name of the first author followed by et al (which means and others) or and others

For example:, “A Grammar of Contemporary English” is written by Randalph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, Jan Svartvik in 1972.

Instead of writing all the four names write only : (Quirk et al, 1972)

(4) If a footnote with a superscript, say 7, is followed by another footnote, the superscript being 8, and if both the superscripts refer to the same book but different pages, you do not have to write the name of the author, the name of the book, publisher etc. in the footnote entry 8. Instead, you can write Ibid and the page number(s).


7Wilga Rivers, “Talking of the Top of their Heads,” TESOL
Quarterly, Vol. 6/1, March 1972, pp. 71-81.
Ibid., p. 76.

However, the abbreviated footnotes should be used with a bibliography that usually comes at the end of a report. (See Bibliography in the following lesson)

Abbreviation used in footnotes

The following abbreviations are commonly used in the footnote entries.

Technique of writing footnotes Technique of writing footnotes


1. What are the techniques of writing footnotes? What are the differences between traditional and abbreviated footnotes?

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