3.4 Using Footnotes or Endnotes for Supplementary Material

Footnotes and endnotes can be used for a variety of purposes in a thesis, though in all cases they should only be used when necessary. Whether and how you use them depends on the requirements and preferences of your university, discipline, department and thesis committee, as well as on the nature and needs of your particular thesis. In some styles (Chicago references via notes and bibliography, for instance: see the Chicago Manual of Style, 2003) citations are provided in either footnotes or endnotes, whereas in others (author–date or numerical references, for example) footnotes and/or endnotes are used predominantly for supplementary material. In the first case, footnotes or endnotes can be included solely for the purpose of providing references, but they can and often do contain supplementary material as well; in the second, they cannot be used for references alone, but the supplementary material provided in them can certainly contain references of the same kind as those used in the main text of the thesis. In this section I am focussing on the use of footnotes and endnotes for supplementary material, so for more information on providing references in footnotes and endnotes, see Section 7.2.3 below (footnotes and endnotes are also discussed in Sections 1.2.6 and 1.4.2).

The kind of supplementary material that might be included in footnotes or endnotes varies markedly from thesis to thesis, but generally speaking, information that is closely related to the discussion in the main text of your thesis but that might be excessively long or distracting if included in that main discussion should be placed in footnotes or endnotes. Such supplementary notes might contain further details of various kinds, additional or conflicting evidence, translations and variant readings, alternative approaches, theories, interpretations and the like. The notes added to a thesis are therefore a useful site for comparing and contrasting theories, evidence and results, speculating on ideas and interpretations presented in the main text and creating a kind of secondary level of discussion which can enhance without confusing the central line of your argument.

Footnotes appear at the bottom of pages throughout a thesis, whereas endnotes appear either at the end of each chapter or at the end of the thesis in its final matter (see also Section 7.2.3). Your university, department and/or thesis committee may specify whether footnotes or endnotes are preferable, so do check before making a decision on this, but, as a general rule, if your notes are going to be long, they are usually better as endnotes because long footnotes can result in more notes than main text on individual pages of the thesis chapters, which makes for an unattractive layout. It may be, however, that you will need to use both kinds of notes in your thesis – one kind for supplementary material and the other for textual variants, for instance – and if that is the case, you will need to decide which kind will work best for each purpose.

Notes of each kind (footnotes or endnotes) are numbered separately and appear in numerical order either in one consecutive series throughout a thesis or beginning with a new series for each chapter. The note numbers generally take the form of superscript Arabic numerals as the example at the end of this sentence does – an example that shows the use of a footnote for supplementary material that includes an author–date reference.[1] Only rarely are Roman numerals used (they become very cumbersome if there are many notes), but note numbers are sometimes placed in square brackets [1] or parentheses (1), and if you need to use both footnotes and endnotes, you will need to use more than one kind of numerical indicator: superscript Arabic numerals for footnotes, for instance, and Arabic numerals in parentheses for endnotes. In addition, if you happen to be using a numerical system of references (see Section 7.2.2), you will need to distinguish those from the footnotes and/or endnotes you use, so numerical references could, for example, be placed in square brackets as the numerical reference in this supplementary footnote is.[1] If university or department guidelines indicate that you have to use a certain format for any one of these elements – superscript Arabic numerals for numerical references, for example – your system of distinction will have to accommodate those requirements.

[1] The problem has been explored many times with strikingly different results, but particularly relevant to my work here is the fact that the same trend was revealed in the most recent study of the problem (Brockle, 2014).

Footnotes and endnotes are generally placed where they are most relevant in the main text, which usually means immediately after the material to which they pertain, but, as a general, rule, notes should not be attached to titles, headings or either the preliminary or final matter of a thesis. Some styles and guidelines will call for notes to appear only at the end of sentences or, in rare cases, only at the end of paragraphs, which means that all references and supplementary information relevant to a sentence or paragraph will need to be included in a single note. Note numbers usually follow full stops and commas (Variously translated over the decades,1 the passage has become increasingly provocative) and precede colons and semicolons (The passage has been translated in a variety of ways over the decades1; these translations have tended to make the meaning more rather than less provocative); this, too, is style dependent, however, so do check any guidelines provided to be sure you are positioning the note numbers correctly.

The font used in footnotes and endnotes should be the same as the font used in the main thesis (although the automatic note function in word-processing programs such as Word will often use a different one, so do watch for this and adjust the font if necessary). The text in notes can be a little smaller than the text in the main document (a 10-point font when the main text uses a 12-point one, for instance, as is the case in this book) as long as the text in your notes remains clear and legible in relation to the size of the main text. This is a special concern if complex and detailed information such as equations or passages of text using special characters are included in the notes, or if superscript numbers are used for numerical citations within them. With all aspects of formatting notes, once you have decided on an effective system for your thesis, it is essential that you adopt and use it consistently throughout the document.

Although some authors treat footnotes and endnotes as a place where informal, shorthand or point-form English is acceptable, it is not. Notes for supplementary material (whether that material includes references or not) should always be written in complete and correct formal sentences and punctuated both effectively and consistently (see Chapter 5), as the examples I use in this book are, and even when notes exist for no other reason than to provide references, they should observe a correct and consistent arrangement and punctuation style for those references (see Section 7.2.3). The same is the case if you are using notes for variant readings, translations or something of the sort, though you may have to devise your own consistent system of punctuation and the like unless your discipline or department has conventional methods for presenting such material. 

The footnotes and/or endnotes you use in your proposal chapters should be as complete and formal as those you will ultimately use in your thesis, but you may want to use notes in your proposal for a slightly different reason as well: to provide your readers (the members of your thesis committee) with any information that may help them to understand your proposal and your plans for your thesis. These notes, too, should be written in formal English and should not be used excessively as a substitute for explaining what ought to be explained in the main text, but if there is something you are planning to do in a chapter not yet drafted, for example, that might help your readers see the larger picture, it is worth mentioning it in a note that may become in the completed thesis a note informing the reader to look ahead to that chapter for further information.

PRS Tip: Many doctoral candidates will use Word to write their proposals and theses, and the automatic footnote and endnote functions in this program are fabulous for organising both kinds of notes and laying footnotes out on the page, but do be aware that Word’s automatic footnotes also have a nasty habit of suddenly disappearing in whole or (more often) in part as a complex document is edited and the program faces the challenge of rearranging notes and text on a rapidly changing page. In my experience, the note numbers in the text are not altered, but the notes themselves at the bottom of pages can be cut short, usually at the point where a footnote breaks to be continued on the following page, so the note simply stops before it is finished and does not continue on that next page. In most cases the notes have not actually been deleted by the program and generally a little fiddling can bring them back: adding a new footnote number to the main text a few words before the number of the missing or defective footnote usually nudges the program into remembering the lost footnote, which will then reappear. At this point, you can simply delete the unnecessary note number you added (or use the Undo button) and the restored note will remain. In some documents, however, this procedure may need to be repeated whenever the file is opened or major changes are made, and there are rare situations in which footnotes will need to be replaced entirely, so footnotes always require an especially careful visual check before work is submitted to your supervisor and/or thesis committee.

Why PhD Success?

To Graduate Successfully

This article is part of a book called "PhD Success" which focuses on the writing process of a phd thesis, with its aim being to provide sound practices and principles for reporting and formatting in text the methods, results and discussion of even the most innovative and unique research in ways that are clear, correct, professional and persuasive.

The assumption of the book is that the doctoral candidate reading it is both eager to write and more than capable of doing so, but nonetheless requires information and guidance on exactly what he or she should be writing and how best to approach the task. The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples.

The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples. PhD Success provides guidance for students familiar with English and the procedures of English universities, but it also acknowledges that many theses in the English language are now written by candidates whose first language is not English, so it carefully explains the scholarly styles, conventions and standards expected of a successful doctoral thesis in the English language.

Individual chapters of this book address reflective and critical writing early in the thesis process; working successfully with thesis supervisors and benefiting from commentary and criticism; drafting and revising effective thesis chapters and developing an academic or scientific argument; writing and formatting a thesis in clear and correct scholarly English; citing, quoting and documenting sources thoroughly and accurately; and preparing for and excelling in thesis meetings and examinations. 

Completing a doctoral thesis successfully requires long and penetrating thought, intellectual rigour and creativity, original research and sound methods (whether established or innovative), precision in recording detail and a wide-ranging thoroughness, as much perseverance and mental toughness as insight and brilliance, and, no matter how many helpful writing guides are consulted, a great deal of hard work over a significant period of time. Writing a thesis can be an enjoyable as well as a challenging experience, however, and even if it is not always so, the personal and professional rewards of achieving such an enormous goal are considerable, as all doctoral candidates no doubt realise, and will last a great deal longer than any problems that may be encountered during the process.

Interested in Proofreading your PhD Thesis? Get in Touch with us

If you are interested in proofreading your PhD thesis or dissertation, please explore our expert dissertation proofreading services.


PhD Dissertation Proofreading

Our PhD dissertation proofreaders specialise in improving grammar, sentence structure, citations, references, clarity, logical flow and readability.

Master’s Dissertation Proofreading

To avoid failure and its consequences, send your dissertation to our master’s dissertation proofreading service.

Scientific Dissertation Proofreading

Our scientific proofreaders specialise in correcting and perfecting the language, editorial styles and references across all science fields.


Allia Future Business Centre
The Guildhall
Market Square
United Kingdom

+44 (0) 20 31 500 431