Information is taken from the 8th edition MLA Handbook, latest version, 2020.
Depending on how many MLA style essays you’ve written, you may or may not know that you can use endnotes and footnotes instead of solely using parenthetical in-text citations. Some professors or publishers may require that you use only endnotes and footnotes because it often cleans up your essay, making it easier for the reader to focus on the argument. Unlike typical in-text citations that tend to muddy up your body paragraphs, endnotes and footnotes in MLA style happen underneath all the text, keeping things looking clean and simple.
Luckily, if you’ve already got a good hold on parenthetical citations, these shouldn’t be too difficult to understand!
One quick thing before we get going: The MLA style guide recommends limited use of lengthy, over-descriptive footnotes and endnotes, so it’s best to steer clear of vast explanations in your notes.
Using Footnotes and Endnotes for Recommendations and Context
You may see academic writers—especially in history books—use endnotes and footnotes to recommend further reading that pertains to the topic. These kinds of notations are fine to do in your MLA essay, though it shouldn’t happen often. More often, you might notice a footnote or endnote that gives a bit more context to a piece of information in the main text. This is more common, but it’s still not something you should repeatedly do in one MLA essay.
Here are examples for both of these types of footnotes and endnotes:
Many other polls have drawn this same conclusion. See Smith 66-78.
For a different take on a soldier’s life during the Revolutionary War, see Lancaster chapters 13 and 14.
In her memoir published later that year, Carrie revealed the struggles she had always kept hidden (Fisher 99).
When asked directly in a televised interview, he had no answer (Scottsdale 86).
How to Number Footnotes and Endnotes
Footnotes and endnotes in an MLA essay should always be indicated by superscript numbers that immediately follow the sentence or clause containing referenced information. These numbers will always come after the punctuation, except when you’re using an em-dash (—) to separate clauses.
Never use asterisks, stars, or any other symbols to delineate footnotes or endnotes in an MLA style essay. Only use superscript numbers.
Here are some examples of how to number footnotes and endnotes:
Sociologists have long debated the level of importance that religion held in ancient societies.7
King states that the crime happened at fifteen minutes past midnight,3 but many witnesses have disputed this claim.
The fact remains that the flowers grew better in the bigger pot5—meaning Sarah’s flowers will most likely flourish.
How to Format Footnotes and Endnotes
When using endnotes, you should have a page titled “Notes” at the end of your MLA essay but before your Works Cited Page. Using corresponding numbers, list your endnotes and give the bibliographic or context information of each source/note. These notes should be double-spaced. Along the left margin, type the endnote number and a period and add five spaces before starting your actual note.
The eighth edition of the MLA style guide does not specify how to format footnotes, but the most commonly used word processing apps (Microsoft Word, Pages, Google Docs, etc.) have a built-in function for adding footnotes that can help you format correctly!
You may not write many MLA essays that require footnotes and endnotes, but if you ever need to rely on them instead of parenthetical citations, this guide should lead you through each step!