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Transkills: supporting transition to University


Footnotes should primarily be used to reference a text or an idea you have cited in your dissertation. You can also use them to give more substantive information, but as a general rule, you should keep footnotes to a minimum. If the material is an important part of your argument, it should go in the main body of your essay; if it isn’t, ask yourself whether it is really essential to include it at all. 

More substantive footnotes are useful in the following cases:

  • to point the examiner/reader to other works which explore a certain issue in more depth. Here you are demonstrating that you are aware of wider debates, etc., which are pertinent to your work, but it may be distracting to go into such detail in the main body of your dissertation. You should only use a footnote in this manner if the material you are presenting is directly relevant to your argument, however: it should not be used just to list other items you have read on the subject.
  • to give an explanation of a term that may be unfamiliar to your reader, or which has an unusual meaning in this context. Again, this is material which would disrupt the flow of your argument too much if it was included in the main part of the dissertation.
  • to let your reader know that you are aware that a particular term or argument is problematic in a specific way, and to give your reasons for employing it anyway.

Inserting footnote markers

  • Use your wordprocessor’s footnote function, which will automatically renumber footnotes if you make changes.
  • The footnote marker should always be placed at the end of the point/citation to which the footnote refers, after the punctuation mark (except for a dash), and preferably right at the end of the sentence:

In her essay ‘Gender Studies’, Catherine Davies states that ‘Gender refers to the social and symbolic relations of perceived sexual differences’.¹

  • An exception to this rule would be if the footnote only relates to the first part of the sentence, and you want to show that the second half moves on to a different idea.

In her analysis of the representation of violence in twentieth-century art, Bernárdez Sanchis draws attention to the deformation and distortion of the private parts of the body and the blurred boundaries between private and public spaces;¹ all of these characteristics are abundantly evident in Alonso’s art.

Here, placing the footnote marker after the semi-colon mid-way through the sentence tells the reader that the first part of the sentence is a summary of the critic’s idea, while the second is the dissertation writer’s own idea.

Formatting footnotes

  • All footnotes should end with a full stop, even if they are not full sentences.
  • Give the basic information about a text only in a footnote: just enough to ensure that the reader can find it easily in your bibliography. You should include the author’s name, the title of the work, and the page number, all separated by commas:¹ Nelly Richard, La insubordinación de los signos, p. 45.
  • A reference should not repeat information which is already clear in the text. For example, if it is obvious which author you are referring to, the footnote should just give the title of the work and the page number.

As Shumway argues, nineteenth-century intellectuals and statesmen had to invent ‘guiding fictions’ in order to justify their vision for Argentina.¹ […]
¹The Invention of Argentina, p. 2.

  • If a title of a work is particularly long, you should give it in full the first time, but thereafter you may give a shorter version. For example, Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics could be shortened to Recodings in the second and subsequent footnotes.
  • If the next footnote references the same text as the one before it, use ‘Ibid., p. 45’ if you are referring to a different page number of the same text, and simply ‘Ibid.’ if you are referring to the same page number of the same text.
  • Even better, if it is obvious which text you are referring to, you need only put the page number in brackets in the main body of your dissertation. This is preferable to repeated uses of ‘Ibid.’
  • If you are citing more than once from the same page number of the same text within the same paragraph, you may use just one reference for all of the citations to avoid repetition. However, you should not do this if there is any possibility of ambiguity.
  • Do not use ‘Op. cit.’ as this can lead to confusions.