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What are footnotes and endnotes?


Footnotes and endnotes are the "old-fashioned" way of citing sources.  On college campuses, they are popular in history departments.  Rather than include an author's last name and date of publication at the end of a sentence, the end of a sentence (or longer segment of information) has a number slightly raised from the line of the text.  The information on this numbered source is located at the bottom of each page (footnotes) or at the end of the essay, chapter, or book (endnotes). 


Historians tend to prefer footnotes/endnotes because they allow an author to "go off on a tangent" without interrupting the flow of the text.  For example, a historian is writing a paper on Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, and is brimming with anecdotal information on Pope Leo X.  However, although the Leo material might be very interesting to readers, it does not belong in the main body of the paper. 


Therefore, the writer includes this information in footnotes/endnotes, perhaps even using the footnote/endnote to list and describe great books and articles for further reading on Leo.  In this way, footnotes and endnotes can be rather casual in tone.


It is because footnotes can become so long and involved that they sometimes take up half of a printed page.  This is why organizations such as the MLA and APA created their own citation formats.  Good sources of information on "old-fashioned" citations are the New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage and the Chicago Manual of Style.


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