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Do Not Let Footnotes Dominate While Writing

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Any history major can attest to the peskiness of footnotes. Depending on the teacher, you can easily lose points for poor formatting on what can seem like a trivial matter. Footnotes are important, but you should not let them dominate your writing. Here is an easy approach to managing footnotes while writing your papers.

We all know the routine. Upon the first citation, you must provide all the information:

1. John Keegan, A History of Warfare (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), 33.

Afterwards, you must use one of the following depending on the preceding footnote:

2. Keegan 1994, 37.

3. Ibid., 40.

The thing you must keep in mind is that the arrangement and formatting of these footnotes are important, but you should never let them dominate your writing. This may seem like a conflicting statement, but if you attempt to perfect the formatting of your footnotes as you write, edit, and rewrite your paper, you will make mistakes. The worst scenario is ending up with an “Ibid.” where you cannot remember what it was supposed to reference.

Instead, as you write your paper, focus on only including the author, year, and page number. With this approach, your footnotes will look like the following as you type:

1. Keegan 1994, 33.

2. Keegan 1994, 37.

3. Keegan 1994, 40.

4. McPherson 1988, 103.

After you have finalized the text of your paper, then go back and work on the footnotes.

1. John Keegan, A History of Warfare (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), 33.

2. Ibid., 37.

3. Ibid., 40.

4. James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 103.

With this approach, you can let your writing dominate your work and the formatting of your footnotes can wait for one final cleanup effort at the end.

By Scott Manning
Online Learning Tips, Student Contributor

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