Footnotes in a dissertation

The use of footnotes in your dissertation can sometimes be complicated. Certain studies have strict requirements for the use of footnotes, while other studies leave you free to choose whether or not to use footnotes.

Functions of footnotes

  • Footnotes are often used for the reporting of sources. The reference of sources is bound by set rules, and these can differ per study. The widely used APA Style dictates that you make no use of footnotes in mentioning sources. Are you producing legal scholarship? Then, chances are that you will be expected to place your source references in footnotes. We made an overview of the most popular reference styles.
  • Explanations of abbreviations and terms are given in footnotes. It is also possible to do this in the glossary of a dissertation.
  • Footnotes are used to provide extra information about the subject that you don’t want to put in your main text due to a lack of space.
  • Footnotes can indicate links to digital publications.


  • Don’t use two footnote numbers directly after each other. You can better use a single footnote and, in that footnote, refer to the second source.
  • Don’t use the same footnote number twice.
  • Footnotes must be in a smaller font than the main text of your document. If you use a 12-point font for your main text, then use a 10-point font for your footnotes.
  • The footnote number is placed immediately after the word to which the footnote refers. If the footnote refers to a paragraph, then place the footnote number immediately after the final punctuation mark.

Footnote numbering is usually reset with each new chapter, but you can also choose to number them continuously throughout your dissertation.

We give you more tips about the layout of your document in the article about dissertation layout and formatting

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Bas Swaen

Bas is co-founder of Scribbr. Bas loves to teach and is an experienced thesis writer. He tries to help students with writing clear and easy to comprehend articles about difficult topics.

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