How to Use Footnotes in Books: The Ultimate Guide

Footnotes are a key component of certain genres of books, particularly nonfiction. And yet, very few people use them properly.

This is largely due to the fact that it is hard to add footnotes to a book, especially for most formatting programs.

In the past you had to have a huge, expensive program like Adobe InDesign to add footnotes to your book, but now there is a tool that will do it for you with no hassle. More on that in a moment.

For now, let's discuss proper usage of footnotes in your book.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. What a footnote is
  2. How it differs from endnotes
  3. How to use footnotes correctly
  4. Different styles for footnotes
  5. Ideas for using footnotes in fiction

Why You Should Trust Me

So I've been writing and formatting books for a long time. 10+ years as of this writing.

But I actually found formatting to be a huge pain, which is why I actually created my own formatting software that solved all my problems. I called it Atticus.

But this isn't meant to be a sales pitch. I just want to make sure it's clear that I know what I'm talking about. The amount of research that went into not only formatting my own books, but also creating a formatting software is huge.

I researched everything, from tiny margin requirements, to the specific type of quotes to use (curly or straight, it makes a difference).

And yes, of course, that includes footnotes.

So if all that makes sense, hopefully you'll come along with me as show you everything I've learned.

What Are Footnotes?

Footnotes are relevant notes placed at the bottom of your page, and are referenced from within the page (usually with superscript numbers).

The primary purpose of a footnote is to add additional information, without interrupting the flow of the writing.

That additional information can include: 

  • Citations
  • Parenthetical information
  • Copyright permissions
  • Background information
  • Author's notes
  • And more

Footnotes are fantastic tools to share information without overpowering the reader. However, there are certain guides and styles to use footnotes properly, and I will get into many of them in a moment.

Bonus: Formatting can be a difficult thing, especially when you have a vanilla tool like Microsoft Word. To make this process easier, I developed a tool to give you the template you need to format your book in Word. Get all the templates here!
Check Out the FREE Formatting Templates

Footnotes vs. Endnotes

There is often some confusion about whether footnotes are the same as endnotes or vice versa. But footnotes are not the same as endnotes, though they do serve a similar purpose.

  • Footnotes provide additional information at the bottom of each page, corresponding to the reference.
  • Endnotes provide additional information at the end of each chapter or at the end of the book.

Otherwise, footnotes and endnotes are almost identical. They both are referenced with a small superscript number, and both refer to citations, additional information, etc. The only difference is the positioning of the note.

See this article for a full breakdown on the difference between footnotes and endnotes.

How to Use Footnotes Properly: Examples

Footnotes will look different depending on what style you use, and so you want to make sure that they look like they should, and that you are using a consistent style throughout your book or essay.

Let's start by examining what the in-text citations look like.

In-Text Citations

To cite your footnote within the body of your text, start by including a small superscript number after the word or sentence where you want to place the reference.

If it is your first reference on the page, start with the number 1, if it is your second reference, go to number 2, and so on.

This will clue the reader in so they know which number to look for at the bottom of the page.

Here is an example of an in-text citation:

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank1, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it.2

Chicago-Style Footnotes

The Chicago style is typically used for citations, though it can be used for other forms of footnotes as well.

For Chicago footnotes, you want to:

  • Indent each footnote
  • Write the number at the start of each note, followed by a period and a space
  • Separate each footnote with one blank line
  • Include the full information about each source (in the Chicago style) the first time beside it, with shortened information in subsequent citations.

You may also want to have a complete list of sources in the back of your book in addition to these footnotes.

Here is an example of a Chicago-style footnote:

1. King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York, NY: Scribner, 2000. 

2. King, Stephen. On Writing

APA-Style Footnotes

APA-style footnotes are typically used for additional information instead of citations, though this is not a hard and fast rule. You can also use them for copyright clarification.

To use APA-style footnotes, remember the following:

  • Add an indent at the start of each footnote
  • Begin with the superscript footnote number followed by a space (no period)
  • Stick to essential information only, as APA footnotes can get long.

Here is an example of APA footnotes:

             1 King, S. (2000). On writing: A memoir of the craft. Scribner. 

              2 This is where you might make an additional note or comment related to the piece you are writing.

MLA-Style Footnotes

MLA footnotes can be used in a variety of ways, including additional information, citations, expansions, etc.

To do MLA-style footnotes well, remember the following:

  • Style the number at the beginning with a superscript and a space (no period)
  • Add an indent at the start of your footnote
  • In-text citations are in parentheses

Here's an example of an MLA-style footnote:

        1 King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner, 2000. 

        2 This is where you might make an additional note or comment related to the piece you are writing.

How to Use Footnotes for Quotes

If you're quoting a source directly in your material, you will want to add a footnote to cite your source so that you don't plagiarize.

To do this, use the exact words of the quote, place quotation marks around it, then placed your superscript number at the end of the quote, outside of the quotation marks.

Use a Good Formatting Program

To do this well, you are definitely going to need a good formatting program, the more automation the better.

Programs like Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign have long had the features necessary to add footnotes, but it is a pain to do, and can take a lot of time to learn.

Other formatting software like Vellum don't even have this capability.

The best formatting program for adding footnotes is Atticus. It will not only add footnotes for you, automatically adding them to the bottom of each of your pages, but it allows you to do so with the click of a button.

You can check out Atticus here, or scroll down for more information.

Using Footnotes In Fiction Books

While footnotes are primarily used in nonfiction books, there are some fun ways to use footnotes in fiction as well. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Reveal additional details about your world: it can be tough to pack all of the world building that you need into your story. How about giving a few extra details in the footnotes?
  • Make your world seem more real: by adding footnotes, you can make your world seem more academic, like it is an actual place. Tolkien did this in the Lord of the Rings.
  • Add comments from other characters: what if you had a character reading the book you are writing? You could use footnotes as a way of letting the character comment on the text. You could also use this for the narrator of a first-person point of view to comment on their own words.

Adding footnotes in fiction can be a fun way to stand out from the crowd, and make the process fun to read.

Why Footnotes Are Important

It is crucial that you learn to cite your sources, especially if you are a nonfiction writer. If you used any information in your book from a source other than your own experience (which most of it will be), then you will want to cite those sources.

Thankfully, there is a tool to make this process a lot easier for you.

Atticus is the all-in-one program designed for authors to write and format their books with ease.

Not only will it automatically create your footnotes, but it does a lot of other things to. Here is a brief rundown of Atticus's features:

  • It does footnotes and endnotes
  • You can format a ebook or print book in a variety of sizes
  • It is $100 cheaper than the leading alternative (which does not have footnotes, by the way)
  • It is available on virtually every platform, including Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chromebook

So if you want a program that makes footnotes easy, along with all of your other formatting needs, give Atticus a look.

How to Create Footnotes in Atticus

Atticus is one of the only formatting programs that does easy-to-insert footnotes (Adobe InDesign does footnotes, but the software is incredibly difficult to learn).

Atticus makes the process easy. Start by choosing whether you want footnotes or endnotes in the Formatting Tab:

how to select footnotes in atticus

Then, simply find where you want to insert your footnote, and select the following button in the top tool bar:

footnotes in the atticus tool bar

This will create a pop-up where you can insert your desired footnote:

inserting footnotes in atticus

You will then see the footnote displayed in the main editor:

footnotes in the atticus editor

And that’s it! Once this is done, the footnotes will appear in your formatted documents. Here is what that looks like in the Print version:

the final look of footnotes formatted by atticus

Note also that for ebooks, your footnotes will be converted to endnotes, since footnotes only work in print.

It’s such an easy process that very few formatting tools have, and ONLY Atticus makes it this simple.

Video: Footnotes in Atticus!

For a nice summary of this article, and a demonstration of how footnotes work in Atticus, be sure to check out this video.

Want more videos like this? Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel for weekly videos!

Check Out Atticus Today!

Sell more books on Amazon

Free Download

Amazon Kindle Rankings E-Book

Learn how to rank your Kindle book #1 on Amazon with our collection of time-tested tips and tricks.