An Introduction to Footnote Referencing

At the tertiary level, each school or department has a stated preference for the referencing style students should use when completing assignments for courses. The two most commonly required footnote referencing styles for Australian universities are Chicago (Notes-Bibliography) and AGLC (Australian Guide to Legal Citation). All the examples given here use Chicago (Notes-Bibliography) Style. By the end of this article, you will understand:

  • the basic rules of most footnote referencing styles
  • the importance of following style guidelines as closely as possible
  • that when referencing, consistency is always the most important consideration.

If your school requires you to use an author–date referencing style, please see our blog article on that topic.

What Is a Footnote Referencing Style?

Footnote referencing styles are named for their use of footnotes to provide the required source details. There are actually two kinds of footnotes: those that provide bibliographic information (which are the kind discussed here), and those that provide explanatory information, such as extra evidence or explanation to support some point, or an aside to the discussion. If you are using a footnote referencing style, chances are you will be using a combination of these kinds of footnotes. My focus here is on the bibliographic footnotes.

Chicago and AGLC are only two of the several footnote referencing styles that exist. Chicago is mostly used in the humanities, while AGLC is used in law in Australia. Other footnote referencing styles include Oxford and Cambridge (often used in art history and the humanities) and the Bluebook Law Review Style (used in law in the US). Academic journals and publishers may also have their own preferred footnote referencing styles, either distinct from, or a variation on one of, the above styles.

It should be mentioned that both Chicago and AGLC are set styles with detailed official style guides. For most source types, there is a specific rule and examples in those guides that you can follow. While they can certainly be confusing in their comprehensiveness, it is important that you try to follow those guides as best you can.

To help you follow those particular style guidelines, it can be useful to know the basic rules of footnote referencing styles. So, let’s look at those now.

The Basic Rules of Footnote Referencing

How to provide the source details

All footnote referencing systems use a footnote flag and a corresponding footnote to provide the necessary source details. The source details required are basically the same and in the same order (author name, title, publication details and page number), as shown in the examples below.

Chicago           Developing strong referencing skills is essential to academic success.

1. Lisa Lines, The Rules of Referencing (Canberra: Capstone Academic Press, 2017), 1.

AGLC                Developing strong referencing skills is essential to academic success.

Lisa Lines, The Rules of Referencing (Capstone Academic Press, 2017) 1.

Notice too in the above example how each footnote is identified by a superscript number (a footnote flag) in the text. (Here, after ‘essential to academic success’.) The footnote itself is indicated by a number, followed by the author’s name, title of the work, publication details and then a page number. There are of course also obvious differences, including in the punctuation of the different styles and the fact that AGLC does not require a place of publication. (Notice there is no mention of Canberra in the AGLC footnote.)

Where to place the footnote flag

The various footnote referencing systems are also similar in the rules for placing footnote flags. The footnote flag is normally placed just after the portion of text it refers to, and normally after a punctuation mark. In the following examples, you can see how the footnote flag (the superscript number) is placed to the right of most punctuation marks. The exception is dashes, where the footnote flag is placed before the punctuation mark.

As Beaulieu states, the sea’s colour ‘prompts a comparison between [it] and marble’.

Beaulieu states that the sea’s colour ‘prompts a comparison between [it] and marble’;this observation is astute.

Beaulieu’s statement that the sea’s colour compares to marble is both astute and insightful.

The sea resembles marble—according to Beaulieu’s reading of Homer—due to its constant movement.

How to present subsequent citations

The way you present initial and subsequent citations of a particular source is important. Initial citations of each work you refer to will need full bibliographic information in the footnote. Subsequent citations will use abbreviated entries. The Chicago Manual of Style does state that if the reference list contains all bibliographic information, then the initial footnote can also be abbreviated, but this practice is not common in Australian universities. Your lecturer or tutor will expect you to follow the guidelines shown here. Remember also to include a page number whenever the ideas or words of a source are being paraphrased, summarised or quoted.

The below example shows how initial and subsequent footnotes are presented in Chicago. You can also see how the reference list entry differs to the footnote entry. As the reference list entries are listed alphabetically, the first author name is always reversed: the family name comes first, followed by the given name.

Footnote citation—First mention

1. Marie-Claire Beaulieu, The Sea in the Greek Imagination (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

Footnote citation—Subsequent mentions

2. Beaulieu, The Sea.

Bibliography entry

Beaulieu, Marie-Claire. The Sea in the Greek Imagination. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

In the reference list and the footnotes, use the author’s full given name (rather than initials) if known, but otherwise initials for the given name are fine. Whichever you are using, you need to be consistent.

When to provide page numbers

Another similarity between footnote referencing styles is how page numbers are presented in the footnote. That is, at the end of the footnote. When citing in general from an entire work, the page number or range can be omitted. However, in all other cases, a page number is necessary.

The following example shows how a single page number, and a page range, is cited in Chicago (Notes-Bibliography). If your source does not have page numbers, you can instead use any location information, such as the paragraph number or the subheading of the section.

General citation of entire work

1. Marie-Claire Beaulieu, The Sea in the Greek Imagination (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

Citation of one page in a work

1. Marie-Claire Beaulieu, The Sea in the Greek Imagination (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 19.

Subsequent citation of the same work, with the citation of a page range

2. Beaulieu, The Sea, 55–57.

How to use ‘Ibid’

Footnote referencing systems, including Chicago, also let you refer to previously cited works using the Latin abbreviation ‘ibid’. Ibid is short for ‘ibidem’, which means ‘in the same place’.

You can use ‘ibid’ when a footnote contains exactly the same information as the footnote immediately preceding it, or if the only difference is the page number. If that immediately preceding footnote contains more than one citation, then ‘Ibid’ must not be used.

First footnote entry

1. Marie-Claire Beaulieu, The Sea in the Greek Imagination (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 19.

Second footnote, immediately following the first, and with exactly the same details

2. Ibid.

Second footnote, immediately following the first, but with different pages

2. Ibid, p. 23.

Using footnotes across larger chapter-based documents, such as research theses and books, can result in hundreds or even thousands of footnotes. The solution to this messy problem is to begin the numbering of footnotes again for each new chapter. To learn how to do this, search in your web browser for ‘how to restart footnote numbers in each chapter’ or watch for our upcoming blog article on that topic.

How to cite works by multiple authors

In Chicago (Notes-Bibliography), if the source has one, two or three authors, all authors’ names are presented in the order ‘given name, family name’, as in the following example:

Two to three authors, first footnote

Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant, Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook in Translation (London: Duckworth, 1982).

Two authors, subsequent citation

Lefkowitz and Fant, Women’s Life.

However, when a source has four or more authors, only the first author’s name is used, along with ‘et al.’. This applies to both the initial and subsequent citations, as seen in the example below. Note that in the reference list, you will need to list all author names for all sources, including those written by four or more authors.

Four or more authors, first footnote

5. J. Evans et al., Equal Subjects, Unequal Rights: Indigenous Peoples in British Settler Societies (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), 20.

Four or more authors, subsequent footnotes

25. Evans et al., Equal Subjects, 45.

There Must Be a Reference List or Bibliography

Regarding the reference list or bibliography, you must include this even though you have provided the relevant information in the footnotes. For space reasons, some academic journals will not require a reference list in addition to footnotes that supply the full bibliographic information, but for university essays and theses, you will almost certainly need to provide a reference list.

This can be a reference or works cited list (which contains only those sources cited in the body of the text), or a bibliography (which contains all the sources cited in the body of the text, as well as any important works consulted but not cited). Chicago (Notes-Bibliography), as the name implies, most often uses a bibliography, rather than a reference list.

Recall that, as we have already seen (and as shown again in the example below), the order of elements (author name, publication details, publication year) varies between the footnote and reference list entry. You won’t be able to cut and paste entries from one to the other.

Footnote citation

1. Marie-Claire Beaulieu, The Sea in the Greek Imagination (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

Bibliography entry

Beaulieu, Marie-Claire. The Sea in the Greek Imagination. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

Consistency Always

The considerable variation between different footnote referencing styles, combined with the variations often preferred by publishers and journals, means that there is plenty of room for confusion for authors when they are trying to follow a referencing style guide.

If you are a student writing at the undergraduate or postgraduate level, you can take some comfort in knowing that, while you should do your best to follow your chosen referencing style guide, consistency is the most important consideration. Even if you use some variation on your chosen referencing style, so long as you do so consistently, and it does not contradict any of the basic rules of footnote referencing given above, you should not be penalised.

The same can’t be said for authors submitting manuscripts to journals or publishers. In this case, the referencing style guidelines of the journal or publisher must be followed exactly, without variation. Failure to do so can result in your manuscript being returned to you for correction.

Keeping in mind all these basic rules explained above, you should now be able to better notice the similarities (and by extension, the differences) between the different styles. This should better equip you to follow any referencing style guidelines with which you are presented, and encourage you to do so closely.

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