Every academic discipline has its own rules for style and formatting. If you're going to be writing a chemistry report, you'll have to worry about writing equations and formatting tables, but if you're working on an English paper you might be more concerned about using block quotes correctly or creating subheadings. History papers are no exception, and students working on coursework for a history class will face a unique set of demands. Among the most important of these style challenges are footnotes, which historians rely on more than scholars in any other field.
Note: All information in this article comes from the 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, which is the most common style guide used for works in history. Other style guides such as MLA or APA will have different rules for when and how to use footnotes.
Footnotes and endnotes
Just what is a footnote? Basically, it's a number inserted into the text that directs the reader's attention to another location in the paper where they can find more information about what they've just read. In history papers footnotes serve as a way to cite sources, and the note is usually a bibliographic entry that details the source material for a quote or idea. However, these notes can also be used to expand on ideas in the text.
If the notes are located at the bottom of each page, they're called footnotes; if they're collected at the end of the paper, they're called endnotes. Generally, in history it's preferred that the writer use footnotes. This format makes it easy for readers since they only need to quickly scan down to the bottom of the page to read the note instead of having to flip back and forth between pages. However, if you have only a few notes or you have so many footnotes that they take up a sizable portion of the page, you may use endnotes. If you're not sure which to use, it's best to ask your teacher or professor which they prefer. In this article I'm going to refer to footnotes only, but all the issues discussed below can be applied to endnotes as well.
What goes in a footnote?
By far the most common type of information provided in a footnote will be citations-bibliographic information for a source you are citing in the main text. For history papers, every time you refer to work done by others, it's should be noted in the text with a footnote, and the note should list all the information the reader would need to track down the original source.
What to cite: Deciding what material to cite can be tricky. On one side of the citation spectrum you've got direct quotations-material typed word-for-word from the source text-that should always list the source. On the other side of the spectrum you have your own personal arguments and ideas; obviously these won't have a source to cite. Then you have everything else in between. Often it can be difficult to tell where your research ends and your own ideas begin or whether a fact or idea can be considered common enough to skip the citation. When you're in this gray area, it's a matter of personal discretion, but there are a few guidelines that can help:
- Direct quotes. Material that is copied word for word from another source should always include a citation. Note that direct quotations should be used sparingly. Unless the writer's language is of interest or you feel they expressed an idea in a way that you can't paraphrase, it's better to summarize the point.
- Paraphrasing. If you're paraphrasing someone else's ideas-that is, you're not quoting word-for-word but you're restating an original idea that came from another person's work-then you need to use a citation.
- Controversial ideas. Anything that could be considered controversial should include a reference to the source; if you're taking a side in a debate you need to show you have evidence to back it up.
- General knowledge. General facts such as dates and names don't require citations. If you can find it in any common textbook or encyclopedia, then you don't need to cite a specific source.
- Everything else. If you're not sure, it's always better to play it safe and provide a citation. Remember, anything that doesn't have a citation you're taking credit for, and you'll be better off if your paper has too many citations than if it looks like you're intentionally plagiarizing somebody else's work.
Bibliographic footnotes can also include information about the source if it's relevant. For example, you may want to give a brief description of the credibility of the source or note other relevant sources. These are not required, however, and should be used only when necessary to answer potential questions the reader might have that would lead them to question your work.
Footnotes can also be used to include information that is relevant but not vital to your main argument. For example, if you're discussing a historical figure, you may want to include an anecdote that's interesting but does not directly pertain to the main argument of your paper. This anecdote can be included in the footnotes-basically, it's a place to stash information that's interesting but that would interrupt the flow of your paper. These kinds of footnotes should be used sparingly. You don't want your reader to be constantly having to read through extra paragraphs in the notes, so before you include one of these footnotes think hard about whether it really adds value to your paper.
How to use footnotes
Footnotes should be marked in the text with a superscript number like this.1 The corresponding notes should be numbered at the bottom of the page under a line separating them from the main text.
1 Footnote one.
Footnotes should always be placed at the end of a sentence, never in the middle, and should come after the ending punctuation of the sentence.
More than one footnote should never be included side-by-side. If you need to reference more than one source, use only one footnotes and include the bibliographic information for all the sources in the same note. In fact, it's often a good idea to include more than one source, particularly when citing controversial work: the more evidence you can provide for your argument, the more credible your paper will be.
2 Source 1., 3 Source 2.
2 Source 1 & Source 2.
If you're going to be citing the same source several times in a single paragraph, it's preferred that you put a single footnote at the end of the paragraph. When you do need to cite the same source more than once, you can use a shortened version of the bibliographic entry. If you're citing the same source in two footnotes in a row, you can use the abbreviation ibid with the page number. A section of footnotes with these references might look like this:
3 Tracy Olleps, "Jefferson and Adams: A Political Friendship," Journal of American History 59, no. 2 (2001), 59.
4 ibid, 37.
5 Alice Brown-Hilt, Master of Monticello: The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Knopf, 2006), 119.
6 Olleps, Jefferson and Adams, 351.
Below are examples of how to format common sources when cited in the footnotes.
Book with one author (print)
1 Alice Brown-Hilt, Master of Monticello: The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Knopf, 2006), 119.
Book with more than one author (print)
2 Michael Holmes and Samantha S. White, Jefferson and France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 263.
Journal article (print)
3 Tracy Olleps, "Jefferson and Adams: A Political Friendship," Journal of American History 59, no. 2 (2001), 59.
Article in a magazine or newspaper (print)
4 Stuart Meijck, "Can Jefferson's Image Be Restored?," New York Times, 12 June 1993, A4.
Book with one author (online)
5 Alice Brown-Hilt, Master of Monticello: The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Knopf, 2006), 119. http://www.universitylibrary.edu/history/2165 (accessed 26 Aug 2011).
Journal article (online)
6 Tracy Olleps, "Jefferson and Adams: A Political Friendship," Journal of American History 59, no. 2 (2001), par. 4, http://www.JAH.org/59-2/Jefferson (accessed 24 Feb 2010).
Website (original content)
7 Juliet Ethelmann, "Who Was Thomas Jefferson?," Society of Jefferson Scholars, http://www.SJS.com/mainsite/Jefferson (accessed 12 Jan 2011).
At the end of your paper you should collect all the sources you cited in a list under the heading "Bibliography." These citations will look slightly different: the authors' first and last names should be reversed, and the page number is left off. For example:
Brown-Hilt, Alice. Master of Monticello: The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Knopf, 2006.
The list should be alphabetized by the author's last name.
Jefferson was unable to complete the requirements of the will due to legal complications,1 but he never commented on the matter directly.
Jefferson was unable to complete the requirements of the will due to legal complications, but he never commented on the matter directly.1
Adams claimed the affair to be "an injustice of the most heinous sort.2"
Adams claimed the affair to be "an injustice of the most heinous sort."2
Jefferson never publicly acknowledged the paternity of this children with Hemings, and they were only freed after his death.2,3
Jefferson never publicly acknowledged the paternity of this children with Hemings, and they were only freed after his death.2
Deciding on the location of footnotes or references in the text (Readability)
An awkwardly placed footnote or reference obstructs the flow of your paper. The non- binding guidelines below are intended to maximize your paper's readability. They are optional, so use your own judgment as to whether to follow them or not. Most likely, your decision will vary from case to case.
Note: In the examples below, we use MLA-style parenthetical in-text references. However, the same recommendations hold true for Chicago-style footnotes.
Optional Rule # 1
As a rule, place footnotes or references at the end of sentences. Avoid placing them in the middle of sentences if possible.
The claim that "the Rape of Nanking surpasses much of the worst barbarism of the ages" (Chang 5) has been a source of disagreement between Western and Japanese scholars.
The claim that "the Rape of Nanking surpasses much of the worst barbarism of the ages" has been a source of disagreement between Western and Japanese scholars (Chang 5).
Optional Rule # 2:
If, in one paragraph, you list multiple quotes from the same page of a source, there is no need to cite that source anew each time. Use just one reference instead, placed after the last of your quotes (or perhaps at the end of the paragraph) to sum up the shared source of all your quotes.
The claim that "the Rape of Nanking surpasses much of the worst barbarism of the ages" has been a source of disagreement between Western and Japanese scholars (Chang 5). Chinese-American scholar Iris Chang argues that "the Rape of Nanking represents one of the worst instances of mass extermination" ever (Chang 5). In fact, she notes, "the death toll of Nanking-one Chinese city alone-exceeds the number of civilian casualties of some European countries for the entire war (Chang 5).
The claim that "the Rape of Nanking surpasses much of the worst barbarism of the ages" has been a source of disagreement between Western and Japanese scholars. Chinese-American scholar Iris Chang argues that "the Rape of Nanking represents one of the worst instances of mass extermination" ever. In fact, she notes, "the death toll of Nanking-one Chinese city alone-exceeds the number of civilian casualties of some European countries for the entire war (Chang 5).
Optional Rule # 3:
Even if multiple quotes from one source are not from the same exact page, as above, you can still summarize them in one reference placed after the last of your quotes or at the end of the paragraph. In this case, the individual page numbers cited are separated by commas, in both MLA and Chicago.
Some Western historians claim that "the Rape of Nanking surpasses much of the worst barbarism of the ages." Iris Chang, for example, describes "Corpses piled up outside the city walls, along the river (which had turned red with blood), ponds and lakes, and on hills and mountains" (Chang 5, 46).
Note: when summarizing multiple quotes from the same source in one reference, the order of the page numbers listed in the reference reflects the order in which the quotes are listed in your text. The above reference (Chang 5, 46) indicates that the first-cited quote is from p. 5, while the second is from p. 46.
Optional Rule # 4
Even if a paragraph lists quotes from more than one source, you can still summarize them into one reference placed after the last quote or at the end of the paragraph. In this case, separate the different authors listed in your reference by a semicolon, in both MLA and Chicago.
Writing on the Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang describes "Corpses piled up outside the city walls, along the river (which had turned red with blood), ponds and lakes, and on hills and mountains." Japanese scholars, however, dispute this version of events, suggesting that Chang describes "'mountains of dead bodies' that no one saw" (Chang 46; Masaaki Ch. 4).
Note: The order in which the citations are listed in the reference reflects the order in which the quotes themselves are listed in the text. The above reference (Chang 46; Masaaki Ch. 4) indicates that the first quote is from Chang, p. 46; followed by a quote from Masaaki (a website), Chapter Four.
Final Note: Don't go overboard when summarizing multiple sources in one reference. Excessively lengthy references can become confusing to your reader. MLA recommends listing no more than three sources, maximum, in any one reference. As ever, use your own judgment. It's your paper, you decide; and don't worry if your decisions vary from case to case. The most important thing is that the source of each of your quotes is clearly identified in your references, and that the placement of your references does not obstruct the flow of your paper.BACK TO TOP
The use of single quotation marks (quotes within quotes)
All quotes are placed in double quotation marks with one exception:
If a passage you are citing contains a quote, the quote within your quote is placed in single quotation marks.
Consider the following passage from the fourth chapter of Tanaka Masaaki's website What Really Happened in Nanking: The Refutation of a Common Myth. This is the original passage, as printed in the website, word for word, down to the punctuation:
No one saw "mountains of dead bodies" or "rivers of blood".
When quoting this passage, the quotes within the quote ("mountains of dead bodies" and "rivers of blood") are placed in single quotation marks:
According to Japanese scholar Tanaka Masaaki, "No one saw 'mountains of dead bodies' or 'rivers of blood'" (Masaaki Ch. 4).
The rule, again: when quoting a passage that contains a quote, the quote within the quote is placed in single quotation marks, as above; notice that the larger quote within which the quote-within-the-quote is embedded, is placed in double quotation marks, as ever.BACK TO TOP
Block quotes (lengthy quotes)
Although we generally recommend using quotes strategically and (therefore) sparingly, there may be times when you need to quote lengthy passages to illustrate or prove your claims. Such lengthy quotes are formatted as block quotes.
What is a lengthy quote?
There is no absolute rule as to what constitutes a "lengthy quote" - some teachers say a quote is lengthy if it exceeds four or five typed lines; others, if it exceeds forty words or four sentences. The point is: once a quote becomes unusually lengthy it is formatted as a block quote.
Whatis a block quote; how is it formatted?
A block quote is a lengthy quote that is visually set off from the rest of your paper. It is single-spaced (rather than double-spaced, like the rest of your paper) and indented an additional half inch so that it visually draws attention to itself on the page. The objective is to signal to the reader, even from a distance, that what follows is a lengthy quote.
A block quote is not placed in quotation marks.
Chinese-American historian Iris Chang offers the following statistics in her effort to illustrate the full scope of the Nanking massacre:
One historian has estimated that if the dead from Nanking were to link hands they would stretch from Nanking to the city of Hangchow, spanning a distance of some two hundred miles. Their blood would weigh twelve hundred tons, and their bodies would fill twenty-five hundred railroad cars. Stacked on top of each other, they would reach the height of a seventy-four-story building. (Chang 5)
Note that, in MLA, as shown above,the final punctuation of a block quote - unlike the punctuation for a regular short quote - is placed immediately after the end of the last sentence, preceding (not following) the parenthetical reference.BACK TO TOP
Modifying the wording of a quote without changing its meaning
Sometimes it is necessary to modify the wording of a quote in order to make it flow more smoothly, to add relevant information, to change its tense to suit the point you are trying to make, or to ensure that its transition in or out of your prose is grammatically correct.As long as you do not alter the fundamental meaning of the original passage, it is permissible to make such grammatical and stylistic changes. To signal to the reader that your modifications are not part of the original passage quoted, such changes and additions are placed in square brackets.
Consider the following passage from Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking:
"Any attempt to set the record straight must shed light on how the Japanese, as a people, manage, nurture, and sustain their collective amnesia-even denial-when confronted with the record of their behavior through that period" (Chang 15).
Now consider the following quote from the above passage:
Writing in 1997, Iris Chang was undoubtedly correct that Japan's version of the Nanking Massacre exemplified "how the Japanese, as a people [once] manage[d], nurture[d], and sustain[ed] their collective amnesia-even denial-when confronted with the record of their behavior through [the] period [of World War II]." Today, more than ten years after the publication of Chang's work, those few Japanese scholars who still continue to deny the events that occurred at Nanking in 1937 are unlikely to ever come around to share her view (Chang 15).
Notice that the material added is placed in square brackets, visually indicating to the reader that it is not part of the original text.
Notice also that, although we have altered the tense of the quote (from present to past and through the addition of the word "once"), changed an article (from "that" to "the"), and added information (to specify the World War II period) we have not fundamentally altered the original meaning of the quote, which remains clearly discernible.
The rule, again: any modifications to a quote must be placed within square brackets. You can modify, as long as you do not change a quote's meaning. (On this, see also The Ethics of Quoting.)BACK TO TOP
Another way in which you can modify a quote is by skipping material. Perhaps the quote is too long, or perhaps it contains unnecessarily detailed information: there are many reasons why you may wish to skip part of a quote, and as long as you do not alter the original meaning of the passage, you are free to do so.
The rule: Indicate that you have skipped material within a quote by placing three periods (an ellipsis) in place of the missing material. Do not place an ellipsis at the beginning or end of a quote, ever: only to indicate skipped material in the middle of a quote.
Consider the following sentence from Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking:
"Corpses piled up outside the city walls, along the river (which had turned red with blood), ponds and lakes, and on hills and mountains" (Chang 46).
If you wish to skip part of this quote (the parenthetical comment, for example) indicate its omission through the use of an ellipsis:
Writing of the Nanking massacre in 1937, Iris Chang describes "Corpses piled up outside the city walls, along the river ... [in] ponds and lakes, and on hills and mountains" (Chang 46).
Two important reminders:
- Remember that you can skip material in a quote only if your doing so does not change the meaning of the original passage (see The Ethics of Quoting on this); and
- Do not place ellipses at the beginning or end of quotes, ever: only in the middle, to indicate skipped material.
- Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. New York: BasicBooks, 1997.
- Masaaki, Tanaka. "'Mountains of Bodies' that No One Saw." N.d. What Really Happened in Nanking: The Refutation of a Common Myth. July 1, 2007 <http://www.ne.jp/asahi/unko/tamezou/nankin/whatreally/index.html>.