MLA footnotes and endnotes

MLA style requires you to cite sources using parenthetical in-text citations, not notes. However, you can still use footnotes and endnotes in MLA style for other purposes:

  • Citing a lot of sources at once
  • Providing any extra explanation needed about your citation or translation practice
  • Elaborating on ideas
  • Providing additional examples that don’t fit into the main text

Footnotes appear at the bottom of the relevant page, while endnotes appear at the end of the paper, just before the Works Cited list. MLA allows the use of either type, but stick to one or the other.

Any sources you cite in your footnotes or endnotes must also be included in your Works Cited list, just like sources in the main text.

Formatting footnotes and endnotes in MLA

Both footnotes and endnotes are indicated by superscript numbers. The number usually appears at the end of a sentence, after the period.

If you need to use a note in the middle of a sentence to avoid ambiguity, place the number directly after a punctuation mark (with the exception of the dash, where the number comes before).

Placement of note numbers in the text

Four main factors have been determined as possible characteristics of any successful fictional work:6 popularity, enduring fame, commercial success and scholarly appeal. Each of the case studies must possess at least one of these.7

The note itself begins with the corresponding number, again in superscript, followed by a space, and then the content of the note. Notes should be in the same font as the rest of your document, but a smaller font size; the first line of each note is slightly indented.

Format of a footnote or endnote
      7 Grabianowski and “100 Best Novels” support the selection of these four case studies, all of which are considered successful works by these sources.

Your word processing program should allow you to automatically insert footnotes.

Formatting the endnotes page

If you are using endnotes, list them on a separate page directly before the Works Cited list. The title (“Notes” or “Endnotes”) appears centered at the top of the page. Like the rest of an MLA format paper, the endnotes should be double-spaced.

MLA endnotes page

Citing a lot of sources at once

When you have a lot of sources to cite at once, you can save space in your text by placing them in a note instead. These can be sources for a statement you made in the text, or sources providing supplementary information relevant to the discussion.

Note that you don’t need to use parentheses around the page numbers when the note just consists of a list of sources.

Note citing multiple sources
      1 For further discussion of Australia’s early publishing industry, see Crittenden 5–11; Kent 17–34; Smith 44–50; and Jones 36.

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Explaining citation or translation practice

When there’s any important information that might not be immediately obvious from your citations, you can explain it in a note at the first point where it comes up.

For example, you might use your own translations for some texts but not others, or you might cite different editions of a text in different ways. These details can be clarified in notes where relevant.

Notes explaining citation/translation practice
      1 Translations are mine unless otherwise noted.
      2 Citations of marginalia refer to Smith’s edition and are cited by page number. Citations of the poem itself refer to Baldwin’s edition and use line numbers.
      3 Davidson’s translation uses rivulet, but the more usual translation of the term is brook.

Using notes to elaborate on ideas

When you mention something in passing but think more information may be useful to the reader, you can add the extra information, as well as related sources if relevant, in a note.

Bear in mind that long notes with superfluous information can be distracting for readers. Use notes of this kind sparingly, and keep them brief. If a piece of information is essential to your point, you should usually include it in the main text.

Notes elaborating on ideas from the text
      4 For an insightful exploration of how “deep time” figured in 19th-century British science, see Sera-Shriar. The relationship between geology and industrial modernity is also elaborated by Taylor, who traces the connections between James Watt’s steam engine and James Hutton’s geological discoveries (35–36).
      5 Brown (21–30) even considers social class and gender to be the novel’s primary themes, a minority viewpoint that nevertheless has some convincing points in its favor.

Providing more examples in notes

Sometimes you have more examples than you can smoothly fit into your text. In those cases, it can be worth placing further examples in a note, if you think they add something to your point. You might also provide a counterexample to acknowledge the limitations of your argument.

Notes providing additional (counter)examples
      4 Other twentieth-century writers have also had ambivalent relationships with their first languages, of course: Conrad, born in Poland but writing in English, or Beckett, an Irishman writing in French and translating himself back into English.
      5 Davis (19) argues for an alternative perspective.
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Shona has a bachelor's and two master's degrees, so she's an expert at writing a great thesis. She has also worked as an editor and teacher, working with students at all different levels to improve their academic writing.

1 comment

Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr Team)
August 23, 2019 at 1:52 PM

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