Footnotes & Endnotes: Advice on Placement, Format & Writing Style

Footnotes & Endnotes: Advice on Placement, Format & Writing Style
Footnotes and endnotes are generally placed where they are most relevant in the main text, which usually means immediately after the material to which they pertain, but, as a general rule, notes should not be attached to titles, headings or either the preliminary or final matter of a thesis. Some styles and guidelines will call for notes to appear only at the end of sentences or, in rare cases, only at the end of paragraphs, which means that all references and supplementary information relevant to a sentence or paragraph will need to be included in a single note. Note numbers usually follow full stops and commas, but precede colons and semicolons. The precise placement of note numbers in relation to punctuation is also style dependent, however, so do check any guidelines provided by your university to be sure you are positioning the note numbers in your thesis correctly.
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The font used in footnotes and endnotes should be the same as the font used in the main thesis, though the automatic note function in word-processing programs such as Microsoft Word will often use a different font for notes, so do watch for this and adjust the font if necessary. However, the text within notes can be a little smaller than the text in the main document (a 10-point font might be used, for instance, when the main text uses a 12-point one) as long as the text in your notes remains clear and legible in relation to the size of the main text. This is a particular concern if complex and detailed information such as equations or passages of text using special characters are included in the notes, or if superscript numbers are used for numerical citations within the notes. With all aspects of formatting notes, once you have decided on an effective system for your thesis, it is essential that you adopt and use it consistently throughout the document.

Although some authors treat footnotes and endnotes as a place where informal, shorthand or point-form English is acceptable, this approach is best avoided in a thesis or any other scholarly document. Notes for supplementary material (whether that material includes references or not) should always be written in complete and correct formal sentences that are punctuated both effectively and consistently. Even when notes exist for no other reason than to provide references, they should observe a precise and consistent arrangement and punctuation style for those references. In future postings on the topic of footnotes and endnotes, I will discuss the specific contents of notes used for documentation and supplementary material.

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