Quick Questions—On Footnotes

By February 16, 2011Writing about Writing


I was wondering the correct way to cite a source by using foot notes (MLA format). I’ve never used them before and I have a paper due that requires me to only use footnotes, no bibliography page. Thanks!
Thanks, —


Hi —!
MLA’s guidelines for footnotes can be difficult to navigate, especially in the case of replacing a bibliography, so thank you for submitting a question that offered a true challenge! As far as I can tell, MLA does not directly reference how to go about replacing bibliographies with citations in footnotes since the MLA style guide endorses the use of a “Works Cited,” even with footnotes. Typically, MLA prefers the use of referencing “see Author” or “Author, 20” rather than full citations in footnotes. That said, you can still follow other general footnote conventions to meet your paper requirements. The Chicago Style manual extensively details the use of footnotes as a citation method, and does not say that a bibliography is necessary. Essentially, the first time you reference a text in a footnote, provide the entire citation (MLA formatted, in this case).

After that, you can reference the author and page as you would in text- “Author, 20”- but in the footnote. If you quote/reference the same text two or more times in a row, you can use terms like “Ibid.” to shorten up the citation even further, but this is not as conventional today as it once was.

When it comes to formatting MLA footnotes, Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), does a pretty great job of describing and summarizing the basics: “begin footnotes four lines (two double-spaced lines) below the main text. Footnotes are single-spaced with a hanging indent. (Each footnote is indented five spaces; subsequent lines are flush with the left margin.)” The “Review” tab of Microsoft word is very helpful in formatting footnotes also, although they do not indent the first line of the footnote as most style guides (including MLA) request, so there are few things to be careful of and do manually.

I hope that this was helpful. Feel free to respond with any follow up questions, or come back to Writing Center with future writing concerns. Thank you again for your question and good luck with your footnotes!

Additional Resources

  • Purdue OWL is a great online resource when you don’t have a style guide on hand.
  • For more on formatting MLA footnotes, Click Here.
  • For more on the Chicago Style convention of footnotes, the “Introduction to Notes” section of the this link is helpful.