History Essay Footnote Format

Guide to Essay Writing - Footnotes


3.0 Footnotes

  • 3.1 Footnotes, notes or endnotes
    As a rule-of-thumb one could say that, although footnotes or notes are necessary, your interpretation should be able to stand without them. Thus, you should not carry on your main argument in footnotes. Generally speaking footnotes should be used to back up the argument by giving sources. Occasionally they can be used to present subsidiary arguments or useful details which would clutter your main argument.
    Appendices can be useful in presenting a detailed argument the 'result' of which you can use in your text, (e.g. a complex argument about the disputed dating of a specific work). An appendix can also be used to provide detailed information which can then be used in a summarised form in the text (e.g. an essay on women artists of the 1970s might include an appendix of lists of exhibitions with an analysis of how many male and how many female artists exhibited). Appendices are best avoided in short essays.
  • 3.2 Reference to footnotes/ notes
    When to use notes is a question of judgement. As a general rule however, you should use them to indicate the sources of:
    (i) facts which are not generally known or agreed upon
    (ii) information which cannot be taken for granted (e.g., percentages of male and female artists in exhibitions in a certain year)
    (iii) particular approaches or interpretations
    (iv) quotations
    (v) it is not necessary to footnotes facts which are generally known
  • 3.3 Location of footnotes/ notes
    Notes may be placed at the foot of the page ('footnotes') or at the end of an essay ('notes' or 'endnotes'). If you are writing a thesis of several chapters, place the notes at the end of the thesis, not at the end of a chapter (they can be difficult to find). If you have a great number of notes located together at the end of a long essay or thesis, it helps your reader if you indicate the pages or chapters to which they refer at the top of the page.
    The most convenient reference to a note is numerical. The number should generally be placed at the end of a sentence or, if necessary to be very specific, at a break in the sentence (e.g. at a comma, a semi-colon or brackets.)
    1. 'New Painting', exn cat., John Smith Gallery, London, 1-3 May, 1912
    2. Not to be confused with Stampnich
    3. Collected Works, London, 1980
  • 3.4 form of footnotes/ notes. First reference
    The first time you refer to a source you must give all bibliographic details. Subsequent references must be shortened.
    Author's full name (or that of editor or compiler). In notes, the first name and/or initials precedes surnames. In a bibliography the surname comes first.
    Complete title of book (exactly as given on title page, underlined or italicised)
    Name of translator if any
    Edition, if other than the first
    Number of volumes
    Where published
    Date of publication (you can, if it is relevant, refer to the date of the first edition)
    Volume number, if any
    Page number(s) of particular citation
    It is not necessary to list the publisher; if you do, be consistent and list the publisher for every entry.
    Ludmilla Vachtova, Frank Kupka, London, 1967, 13-17*
    *Sometimes you will find that the page reference is indicated by p. (page) or pp. (pages). Today, however, the tendency is simplified and the 'p' is often omitted.
    Benedict Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Light, 2 vols, London, 1968, I, 95
    Bernard Smith, Australian Painting 1788-1970, 2nd ed., Melbourne, 1971, 170
    Periodicals, poems, chapters of books, essays and articles in collections, the rule is to use quotation marks when citing a reference that is part of a whole (an article is part of a journal; a chapter is part of a book, etc).
    Author's full name (as with books)
    Title of article (in quotation marks)
    Name of the periodical (underline)
    Volume number (if necessary)
    Date of the issue
    Page number(s) of the particular citation
    Marianne W. Martin, 'Futurism, and Apollinaire, Art Journal, Spring 1979, 256
    It is not necessary to give volume and issue numbers when a month and year are sufficient to identify the source. But one has to be careful of some northern hemisphere journals which use the seasons - which, of course, are different from ours.
    Poems, chapters of books, essays and articles in collections
    The same form applies as for articles.
    1)Guillaume Apollinare, 'Zone', Oeuvres Poetiques, Paris 1962, 149; first published in Les Soirees de Paris, Nov. 1912, 24
    2)Guillaume Apollinaire, 'Modern Painting', Apollinaire on Art: Essays, ed. Leroy C. Breunig, trans. Susan Sulleiman, London 1972; first published as 'La Peinture moderne, Der Sturm, Feb. 1913, 2-3
    Exhibition catalogues
    Title of exhibition catalogue
    Museum/gallery or other location
    City and date
    Page reference
    Example: Fernand Leger, exh. cat., Musee des Arts decoratifs, Paris 1971, 65
    The authors of a catalogue used not to be listed; today they are:
    Example:Meda Mladek and Margit Rowell, Frantisek Kupka. 1871-1957. A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1975, 64
    Authors full name
    Title of thesis
    Type of thesis
    University or College
    Date of thesis
    Example: Lindsay Errington, Social and Religious Themes in English Art 1840-1860, Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1973
    Since this entry is unpublished, the title is neither underlined nor given quotation marks.
  • 3.5 Form of footnotes/notes: Subsequent references (incl. Latin abbreviations)
    After the first full reference to a book, article, etc., subsequent references should be shortened. Enough information should be given to allow easy identification. For example:
    5. Fernand Leger, exh. cat., Musee des Arts decoratifs (Paris, 1971), 65
    6. Ludmilla Vachtova, Frank Kupka, London 1967, 13-17
    7. Vachtova, Kupka, 75
    8. Marianne W. Martin, 'Futurism, Unanimism and Apollinaire, Art Journal, Spring 1979, 256
    9. Martin, 'Futurism, Unanimism and Apollinaire', 268
    10. Ibid., 270 (if same page, Idem can be used)
    Avoid using the Latin abbreviations 'op.cit.' or 'loc. cit'. Students almost invariably use them incorrectly. A shortened authors name and shortened title immediately gives the reader the unambiguous information that is required. 'Ibid' and 'idem' are more useful, but should be used only when the preceding note to which they refer is immediately visible - it is irritating if the reader has to search through the preceding pages to find the relevant note.
    You do, however, need to recognise what these words signify as you will encounter them - particularly in older texts:
    'ibid.' (Latin, ibidem = 'in the same place'); used when references to the same work follow one another (as in n. 10 above). A page reference is necessary. 'idem' (Latin = 'the same'); used to refer to the same reference and same page number (as in n. 10 above).
    'op. cit.' (Latin, opere citato = 'in the work cited'); used to refer to an already cited book.
    'loc. cit.' (Latin, loco citato = 'in the place cited'); as with op. cit. but used for the location of an article, poem, etc., in a book or journal.
  • 3.6 Footnotes/endnotes conclusion
    There are other more detailed conventions of usage, but the above information provides a basic guide. Remember that the conventions of footnotes are not designed simply to be irritating to the writer, but are a common language which will provide the reader with everything needed to locate your reference. It is worth mastering these conventions as soon as you can, as you can then relax and need not check up every time you make a note. Examiners or markers can become extremely irritated if they are not used correctly and may even give the essay back to you, reserving the mark until you have corrected them.

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Thesis Statement[edit]

A thesis statement is generally a single sentence (The last sentence of Intro) within the introductory paragraph of the history (or thesis) essay, which makes a claim or tells the reader exactly what to expect from the rest of the text. It may be the writer's interpretation of what the author or teacher is saying or implying about the topic. It may also be a hypothesis statement (educated guess) which the writer intends to develop and prove in the course of the essay.

The thesis statement, which is in some cases underlined, is the heart of a history or thesis essay and is the most vital part of the introduction. The assignment may not ask for a thesis statement because it may be assumed that the writer will include one. If the history assignment asks for the student to take a position, to show the cause and effect, to interpret or to compare and contrast, then the student should develop and include a good thesis statement.

Following the introductory paragraph and its statement, the body of the essay presents the reader with organized evidence directly relating to the thesis and must support it.

Characteristics of a good thesis statement

  • Is a strong statement or fact which ends with a period, not a question.
  • Is not a cliché[1] such as “fit as a fiddle”, “time after time”, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”, “all in due time” or “what goes around comes around”.
  • Is not a dictionary definition.
  • Is not a generalization.
  • Is not vague, narrow or broad.
  • States an analytic argument or claim, not a personal opinion or emotion.
  • Uses clear and meaningful words.

The History Essay Format[edit]

Essay is an old French word which means to “attempt”. An essay is the testing of an idea or hypothesis (theory). A history essay (sometimes referred to as a thesis essay) will describe an argument or claim about one or more historical events and will support that claim with evidence, arguments and references. The text must make it clear to the reader why the argument or claim is as such.


Unlike a persuasive essay where the writer captures the reader's attention with a leading question, quotation or story related to the topic, the introduction in a history essay announces a clear thesis statement and explains what to expect in the coming paragraphs. The Introduction includes the key facts that are going to be presented in each paragraph.

The following phrases are considered to be poor and are normally avoided in the introduction: “I will talk about”, “You will discover that”, “In this essay”, “You will learn” or other such statements.

Body (Supporting Paragraphs)

The paragraphs which make up the body of a history essay offers historical evidence to support the thesis statement. Typically, in a high school history essay, there will be as many supporting paragraphs as there are events or topics. The history teacher or assignment outline may ask for a specific number of paragraphs. Evidence such as dates, names, events and terms are provided to support the key thesis.

The topic sentence tells the reader exactly what the paragraph is about. Typically, the following phrases are never part of a topic sentence: “I will talk about”, “I will write about” or “You will see”. Instead, clear statements which reflect the content of the paragraph are written.

The last sentence of a supporting paragraph can either be a closing or linking sentence. A closing sentence summarizes the key elements that were presented. A linking sentence efficiently links the current paragraph to the next. Linking can also be done by using a transitional word or phrase at the beginning of the next paragraph.


In the closing paragraph, the claim or argument from the introduction is restated differently. The best evidence and facts are summarized without the use of any new information. This paragraph mainly reviews what has already been written. Writers don't use exactly the same words as in their introduction since this shows laziness. This is the author's last chance to present the reader with the facts which support their thesis statement.

Quotes, Footnotes and Bibliography[edit]


Quotations in a history essay are used in moderation and to address particulars of a given historical event. Students who tend to use too many quotes normally lose marks for doing so. The author of a history essay normally will read the text from a selected source, understand it, close the source (book for web site for example) and then condense it using their own words. Simply paraphrasing someone else’s work is still considered to be plagiarism. History essays may contain many short quotes.

Quotations of three or fewer lines are placed between double quotation marks. For longer quotes, the left and right margins are indented by an additional 0.5” or 1 cm, the text is single-spaced and no quotation marks are used. Footnotes are used to cite the source.

Single quotation marks are used for quotations within a quotation. Three ellipsis points (...) are used when leaving part of the quotation out. Ellipsis cannot be used at the start of a quotation.


Footnotes are used to cite quotation sources or to provide additional tidbits of information such as short comments.

Internet sources are treated in the same way printed sources are. Footnotes or endnotes are used in a history essay to document all quotations. Footnotes normally provide the author's name, the title of the work, the full title of the site (if the work is part of a larger site), the date of publication, and the full URL (Uniform Resource Locator) of the document being quoted. The date on which the web site was consulted is normally included in a footnote since websites are often short-lived.[2]


Unless otherwise specified by the history teacher or assignment outline, a bibliography should always be included on a separate page which lists the sources used in preparing the essay.

The list is always sorted alphabetically according to the authors’ last name. The second and subsequent line of each entry of a bibliography is indented by about 1 inch, 2.5 cm or 10 spaces.

A bibliography is normally formatted according to the “Chicago Manual of Style” or “The MLA Style Manual”.


History and thesis essay writers are very careful to avoid plagiarism since it is considered to be a form of cheating in which part or all of someone else’s work is passed as one’s own. Useful guidelines to help avoid plagiarism can be found in the University of Ottawa document "Beware of Plagiarism".[3]

Formatting Requirements[edit]

  • Letter-sized 8.5”x11” or A4 plain white paper
  • Double-spaced text
  • 1.5” (3 cm) left and right margins, 1” (2.5 cm) top and bottom margins
  • Regular 12-point font such as Arial, Century Gothic, Helvetica, Times New Roman and Verdana
  • A cover page with the course name, course number, group number, essay title, the teacher’s name, the author's name, the due date and optionally, the name of the author's school, its location and logo
  • Page numbers (with the exception of the cover page)
  • No underlined text with the exeception of the thesis statement
  • No italicized text with the exception of foreign words
  • No bolded characters
  • No headings
  • No bullets, numbered lists or point form
  • No use of the these words: “Firstly”, “Secondly”, “Thirdly”, etc.
  • Paragraph indentation of approximately 0.5 inch, 1 cm or 5 spaces
  • Formatting according to the “Chicago Manual of Style”[4] or the “MLA Style”.[5]

Basic Essay Conventions[edit]

  • Dates: a full date is formatted as August 20, 2009 or August 20, 2009. The comma and the “th” separate the day from the year.
  • Dates: a span of years within the same century is written as 1939-45 (not 1939-1945).
  • Dates: no apostrophe is used for 1600s, 1700s, etc.
  • Diction: a formal tone (sophisticated language) is used to address an academic audience.
  • Numbers: for essays written in countries where the metric system is used (e.g., Europe, Canada), no commas are used to separate groups of three digits (thousands). For example, ten thousand is written as 10 000 as opposed to 10,000.
  • Numbers: numbers less than and equal to 100 are spelled out (e.g., fifteen).
  • Numbers: round numbers are spelled out (e.g., 10 thousand, 5 million).
  • Numbers: for successive numbers, digits are used (e.g., 11 women and 96 men).
  • Percentages: the word “percent” is used instead of its symbol % unless listing successive figures. When listing many figures, the % symbol is also used.
  • Pronouns: the pronoun “I” is not used since the writer does not need to refer to him/herself unless writing about “taking a position” or making a “citizenship” statement.
  • Pronouns: the pronoun “you” is not used since the writer does not need to address the reader directly.
  • Tone: in a history or thesis essay, the writer does not nag, preach or give advice.

Use of Capital Letters[edit]

A history or thesis essay will make use of capital letters where necessary.

  • Brand names, trademarks or product names
  • First word of a direct quotation
  • First word of a sentence
  • Name or title of a book, disc, movie or other literary works
  • Names of distinctive historical periods (e.g., Middle Ages)
  • Names of festivals and holidays
  • Names of languages (e.g., English, French)
  • Names of school subjects, disciplines or specialties are not capitalized unless they happen to be the names of languages
  • Names of the days of the week and of the months of the year (e.g., Monday, January)
  • Pronoun I (e.g., “Yesterday, I was very happy.”)
  • Proper names (e.g., John Smith, Jacques Cartier)
  • Religious terms (e.g., God, Sikhs)
  • Roman numerals (e.g., XIV)
  • Words that create a connection with a specific place (e.g., French is capitalized when it is used in the context of having to do with France)
  • Words that identify nationalities, ethnic groups or social groups (e.g., Americans, Canadians, Loyalists)

Miscellaneous Characteristics[edit]

  • A word processor such as Microsoft Word[6] or a free downloadable processor such as Open Office[7] could be used to format and spell-check the text.
  • An essay plan or a graphic organizer could be used to collect important facts before attempting to write the essay.
  • Correct use of punctuation; periods, commas, semicolons and colons are used to break down or separate sentences.
  • Paragraphs are not lengthy in nature.
  • Street or Internet messaging jargon such as “a lot”, “:)”, “lol” or “bc” is not used.
  • Text that remains consistent with the thesis statement.
  • The essay has been verified by a peer and/or with the word processor's spell-check tool.
  • The same verb tense is used throughout the essay.


Example of a bibliography
  1. ↑A cliché is an expression or saying which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning; something repeated so often that has become stale or commonplace; "ready-made phrases".
  2. ↑“History and Classics: Essay Writing Guide” (on-line). Edmonton, Alberta: Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta. uofaweb.ualbert.ca (January 2009).
  3. ↑Uottawa.ca
  4. ↑More information on the “Chicago Manual of Style” can be found at chicagomanualofstyle.org
  5. ↑More information on the “MLA Style Manual” and “Guide to Scholarly Publishing” can be found on the Modern Language Association web site at mla.org Guides can be ordered online.
  6. ↑Office.microsoft.com
  7. ↑Openoffice.org

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