17 Notes and references

17.2 Footnotes and endnotes

17.2.1 The use of notes in the humanities

An apparatus based on notes is normal in the humanities, where more is often needed than a simple link to a consolidated list of published sources. For example, manuscript sources are more easily cited in notes than in the systems of parenthetical reference used in scientific publications (see also 18.6). Different sources, or versions of a source, may be compared and evaluated in a note. If a quotation is given in translation in the text the original may perhaps be given in a note, or conversely (this may be scrupulous scholarly practice where doubt is possible about the correctness of a translation, but it should not be adopted routinely without good reason). It is sometimes helpful to include in a note a brief survey of the literature on a particular topic, or a summary of a debate, though authors should be discouraged from needlessly transforming notes into bibliographies. Author’s acknowledgements also fit neatly into notes. Also, notes can perform special functions in scholarly editions of original texts, where they may, for instance, supply variant readings from different manuscripts.

The flexibility that makes notes such a useful tool can be abused. Authors sometimes include in notes further discussion of a question raised in the text, or of some related issue. While this cannot be outlawed altogether, it should be avoided wherever possible. For the most part, if a point is important and relevant enough to be discussed at all it should be dealt with in the text. Notes should be kept as short as possible, and inessential material excluded. The best place for extensive but essential ancillary matter that cannot be accommodated in the text may be an appendix. The main function of notes (other than those in editions of texts) remains the clear and concise presentation of necessary references.

17.2.2 Footnotes or endnotes?

In printed material, notes may be either footnotes, placed at the foot of the page to which they relate, or endnotes, placed in a single sequence at the end of the text. In multi-author volumes and journals that employ endnotes they should be printed at the end of an individual chapter or article; otherwise they are normally placed at the end of the book, in a separately numbered sequence for each chapter.

Some categories of note, such as those that explain the meaning of words in the text or provide variant readings, have an especially strong claim to be placed at the foot of the page. Footnotes are in general much more convenient for the reader, who can keep track of them without the annoying disruption of flipping back and forth between text and notes in the course of reading. The setting of notes at the foot of the page can make page layout more complex than placing them together at the end of the text, depending on the length and number of footnotes.

In material presented in formats that do not rely on a fixed page, such as ebooks and some websites, the distinction between footnotes and endnotes becomes less meaningful. Notes in electronic formats will generally be connected to the text via a hyperlink. Authors should discuss with their publishers every format in which their text is likely to be published and plan for a notes system that will work across them all.

17.2.3 Numbering and placement

The reader is referred to a footnote or endnote by a cue in the text. This normally takes the form of a superior Arabic number. The cue is placed after any punctuation (normally after the closing point of a sentence). If, however, it relates only to text within parentheses it is placed before the closing parenthesis. The cue is repeated at the start of the note. Notes cued in the middle of a sentence are a distraction to the reader, and cues are best located at the end of sentences:

He was a genuine Shropshire lad, as John H. Johnston reminds us.51
Bergonzi quite correctly notes, ‘Owen’s attitude to the “boys” or “lads” destined for sacrifice has some affinity with Housman’s.’55
(Hopkins wrote defensively to Bridges: ‘When you read it let me know if there is anything like it in Walt Whitman; as perhaps there may be, and I should be sorry for that.’29)

Characters other than Arabic numerals may be used for note cues when there are relatively few notes in a sequence, but this should only be done when necessary. In mathematical or scientific contexts, for example, superior lower-case letters may be used to avoid confusion with superscript numbers in technical notation. Lower-case Roman numerals may also serve as note cues (though this quickly becomes unwieldy), as can reference marks (the traditional order is *, †, ‡, §, ¶, ||, repeated in duplicate as **, ††, and so on as necessary—but this too is a cumbersome method if there are more than a handful of notes). Occasionally different types of cue are employed on the same page for parallel sequences of notes serving different purposes: this should be avoided if possible but is sometimes required in complex editions.

Notes should be numbered continuously through each chapter or article. This allows the numbers in the author’s copy to remain unchanged at typesetting; internal cross-references to notes thus do not require correction on page proof, and passages of text may even be located by reference to numbered notes (Ch. 6 at n. 17). Continuous numbering of notes through an entire book is to be avoided, as it can generate too many three-digit cues and will cause problems if a note is deleted or added at proof stage. Whether numbered page by page or chapter by chapter note cues must appear in strict numerical sequence; the same number must not be used twice within a sequence, even if the content of the note is the same.

An initial note consisting entirely of acknowledgements may be placed before the numbered notes and cued with an asterisk; the asterisk is placed at the end of the first sentence of text. Avoid asterisks, note numbers, or other cues within or at the end of titles, subtitles, and chapter subheadings. An initial uncued note may be used to provide the original location of a reprinted chapter or article.

A note giving the source for a displayed quotation is best placed at the end of the quotation itself rather than at the end of the preceding text. Where there are multiple quotations from or references to a particular source the locations should be given in a single note after the last quotation or reference, provided no other citation intervenes. The page numbers should be in the same order as the quotations or statements to which they relate, not rearranged into numerical sequence. If there are repeated citations of a single source (but no other) over several paragraphs it may be best to provide a separate note for each paragraph. The notes in three such successive paragraphs might, for example, be:

6. Smith, Windham’s Green Book, 25, 17, 31.
7. Smith, Windham’s Green Book, 87, 95, 103–5.
8. Smith, Windham’s Green Book, 150, 75, 279.

Furthermore, where it can be done without ambiguity, it is good practice to group references to different sources in a single note after several sentences or at the end of a paragraph. The nature of the source will generally indicate to which statement in the text it relates, and any doubt may be removed by a parenthetical word or phrase after the references or by an introductory phrase before several related references. The editorial effort required is justified by the reduction in the number of notes and the improved readability of the text.

Not even the best endowed colleges had incomes approaching those of such great Benedictine houses as … Westminster or Glastonbury … New College’s estates probably yielded revenues of a similar magnitude to the Augustinian abbey of Oseney. … The estate income of All Souls … was probably slightly lower for example than that of Bolton Priory in Yorkshire, which supported merely fifteen canons … The college by contrast remained close to its statutory complement of a warden and forty fellows.30
 30. D. Knowles and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (1953), 80 (Westminster), 66 (Glastonbury), 149 (Oseney), 128 (Bolton); I. Kershaw, Bolton Priory (1973), 186; Cobban, ‘Colleges and halls’, 609.

17.2.4 Layout of notes

The layout and typography of notes is subject to considerable variation. Footnotes in particular are usually set in smaller type than text. A note should begin with a capital initial and end with a full point. It may or may not contain grammatically complete sentences. Abbreviated forms (for example for the months of the year) and symbols that would not be acceptable in open text may be appropriate within citations in notes. Various forms of punctuation and wording may be used to group citations and to indicate how they relate to material in the text or to related questions; what is most efficient in any context is a matter for editorial judgement. The common abbreviation ‘cf.’ (Latin confer) means ‘compare’, and thus is not quite the same as ‘see’.

The number preceding the note may be superscript or on the line:

40 Mokyr, Why Ireland Starved, 26.
40. Mokyr, Why Ireland Starved, 26.

Whether or not a point is needed after a number on the line is a design issue.

17.2.5 Forms of citation

Full guidance on the form of bibliographic citations is to be found in Chapter 18. For the most part the same considerations govern entries in a bibliography and citations in notes, with the important exception that in notes an author’s initials or forename precede rather than follow the surname. Consistent systems for the formulation of notes are essential, but abstract rules should not be followed too slavishly: much can depend on editorial judgement in presenting particular references as clearly and economically as possible.

Author and short title

In addition to general bibliographic rules there are conventions, relating especially to multiple citations of the same work, that are intended to promote brevity and clarity within notes. Unless it is included in a list of abbreviations or a bibliography (see 17.2.6), full bibliographic details of a published work or the location of an unpublished source should be given when it is first cited in an article or book, and repeated at its first citation in any subsequent chapter in the same book. Subsequent citations should take a very abbreviated form, typically the author’s surname and a shortened title of the work. The short title should be accurately extracted from the full title (not a paraphrase) and should be as brief as is compatible with the unambiguous identification of the work. Rather longer forms may be advisable if works of similar title are cited. Short titles alone may be used for works cited with no namedauthor. It is a matter of judgement whether an editor’s name should be repeated with the title of an edited text. Short forms may also be devised for the multiple citation of unpublished sources whose full forms are unduly lengthy.

Once a short form has been established, the author’s initials or the full title should not be reintroduced in later citations in the same chapter.

5. R. J. Faith, The English Peasantry and the Growth of Lordship (1997).
73. Faith, English Peasantry, 49–50.

Location within a work

Locations within a work should generally be given in the shortest unambiguous form. Publishers will have their own conventions for the various fields in which they produce books or journals. Lower-case Roman numerals were traditionally used for volume numbers, but Arabic numerals are now common; either system should be applied consistently. Roman page numbers must be retained and not converted to Arabic. Volume and page numbers may be linked by a point, consistently either closed up or spaced off. Abbreviations for pages or volumes (p., pp., vol., vols.) are not strictly necessary in most cases, but they should be included before Arabic or Roman numerals if there is a risk of confusion as to what element is being cited. If a work has numbered columns rather than pages there is no need to use the abbreviation col. in citations, as there will be no ambiguity when the reader consults the source. Likewise compound locations consisting of several numbers (whether Arabic, lower-case Roman, or small capitals, depending on house style or general convention) may reasonably be used with no explanation of the elements they represent (book, chapter, paragraph, question, etc.) if there will be no ambiguity in the source itself.

Letters and Journals of Robert Baillie, 2.110
Brett-Smith, 1.xxviii–xxix
English Historical Documents, i, 2nd edn, ed. D. Whitelock (London, 1979), no. 191
Liber de caesaribus, v.39.20
Authors sometimes feel obliged to give the overall pagination of articles or chapters they cite in addition to the particular passage to which they are referring. This is no more logical or helpful than citing the total pagination of a book, and is an unnecessary complication of a citation.

For the treatment of abbreviations and contractions of terms such as ‘page’, ‘chapter’, and ‘volume’ see Chapter 10. The use of ‘f.’ after a page number to indicate ‘and the following page’ should be replaced with an explicit two-page span (15–16, not 15 f.). A page number followed by ‘ff.’ to indicate ‘and the following pages’ should also be converted to a precise span if possible, but this form is acceptable when it is difficult for the author (or editor) to identify a final relevant page. The spacing, if any, before the abbreviation (23ff. or 23 ff.) is a matter of house style; Oxford traditionally uses a thin space between a number and a following ‘f.’ or ‘ff.’, and between a number and a following ‘n.’ or ‘nn.’ in the absence of a subsequent note number (when a note number is included, normal space of the line is used: 23 n. 5). When specific notes are cited, ‘note’ may be abbreviated to ‘n.’ and ‘notes’ to ‘nn.’ It is best to avoid punctuation between page number and note number. In the third of the following examples the notes cited contain information additional to that given in the text:

Marx, Manifesto, 37 n. 4.
Kleinhans, ‘Marxism and Film’, 106 ff.
K. McRoberts, Misconceiving Canada (Toronto: OUP, 1997), 12 and nn. 37–8.

Recto and verso are sometimes abbreviated r and v, set roman, and may be used to indicate right- and left-hand pages respectively— 31r, 70r, 78v, 89r.

A reference to another place within the work itself may be included in a note if it will be genuinely helpful to the reader, but such internal cross-references should be added judiciously. Where possible, cross-refer by chapter and chapter subheading in addition to using the page number: this will be more effective than the page number alone in an ebook or other unpaged format.


Many abbreviations are used in note references, to aid or direct the reader as succinctly as possible. For the most part, a lower-case abbreviation that begins a note is capitalized, whether or not the note is a complete sentence. A handful of common abbreviations are, however, exceptions to this rule: c., e.g., i.e., l., ll., p., pp. generally remain lower case:

20. c.1344, according to Froissart.
21. e.g. service outside the jurisdiction.
22. i.e. Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988, §4.
23. p. 7.
24. ll. 34–44 (Miller edn).

Certain Latin words or their abbreviations have been traditionally used to make citations in notes more concise. These abbreviations serve admirably in print but are far less useful in electronic formats, where the notes may appear (for example) in a pop-up rather than in a consecutive list. The reader hovering on a note link and receiving the abbreviation ‘Ibid.’ in a standalone pop-up gains no useful information. For this reason Oxford prefers the author and short-title system wherever possible. Exceptions are allowed for some specialist material (such as legal publications) where these abbreviations are rigidly followed throughout a discipline.

  • • The word ibidem, meaning ‘in the same place’, is normally abbreviated to ‘ibid.’, occasionally to ‘ib.’ Bibliographically, ‘ibid.’ means ‘in the same work’, or ‘in the same place within that work’, as in the immediately preceding citation (either in the same or the preceding note). ‘Ibid.’ is best avoided in favour of an author and short-title system.

  • • The abbreviations ‘op. cit.’ (opere citato, ‘in the cited work’) and ‘art. cit.’ (articulo citato, ‘in the cited article’) were once commonly used in place of a work title, normally after an author’s name. In fact they are of little use. The author’s surname and a short title create a more helpful citation. Avoid these forms.

  • • The abbreviation ‘loc. cit.’ (loco citato, ‘in the cited place’) is often misunderstood and misused. It can represent only a specific location within a work and is therefore of extremely restricted usefulness. It may occasionally save the repetition of a long and complex location involving multiple elements that cannot easily be compressed, but most often the repeated location (for example volume and page) will be no longer than ‘loc. cit.’ itself.

  • Idem (commonly but not always abbreviated to ‘id.’) means ‘the same person’, and was formerly used in place of an author’s name when works by the same author are cited one after the other. This is perhaps an excessive saving of space. Furthermore there are grammatical complications, as the form of the Latin pronoun varies with gender and number. While a male author is idem (id.) a female must be eadem (ead.); multiple female authors are eaedem (eaed.) and multiple authors of whom at least one is male are eidem (eid.). An author’s gender is not always known, and editors cannot always be relied upon to apply the correct forms. Apart from the language problem, XML tagging of the author element will not work properly if the author’s name is not repeated, so links to citation indexes are not formed correctly. Avoid this form and repeat an author’s name in a new citation.

  • • The word passim may be placed after a span of pages, or a less specific location, to indicate that relevant passages are scattered throughout the overall location. This usage is of limited use to the reader and should be applied sparingly.

17.2.6 Bibliographical abbreviations

A list of bibliographical abbreviations is often printed in a book’s preliminary matter, or at the start of a bibliography. An abbreviated citation assigned in this way will be used every time the work is cited in a note, even at its first citation in a chapter. Whether or not it is worth including such a list in a volume will depend not only on how often particular works are cited in the volume as a whole but also on how many works are cited frequently in more than one chapter. If a work is cited very many times in one chapter it will routinely be reduced to author and title after its first citation; a more irregular abbreviation of a complex source may be explicitly introduced at its first mention in a chapter:

Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (hereafter HE)
St John’s College, Cambridge, archives (hereafter SJC)

If a source abbreviated in this way is cited in no other chapter in the volume an entry in an overall list of abbreviations may be superfluous.

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New Hart's Rules


Preface Editorial team Proofreading marks Glossary of printing and publishing terms