Term Paper Tricks: Using Footnotes to Make Your Paper Look More Academic Without Really Trying

A country dance scene from Thomas Vinterberg's 2015 movie version of Far From the Madding Crowd.
A country dance scene from Thomas Vinterberg’s 2015 movie version of Far From the Madding Crowd.

Most students seem to prefer to use MLA, APA or Harvard citation styles, thus avoiding using footnotes or endnotes. However, no matter what citation style you choose, the judicious use of footnotes or endnotes can make even the simplest term paper look more academic and might even impress your professor with your scholarly skills. I’m not talking about footnotes used to cite a source, but rather to embellish your paper with additional information.

For instance, say you’re writing a term paper on Thomas Hardy’s novel, Far from the Madding Crowd. Your aim was to focus on its love story. In the process, you realize he was an English country dance aficionado, including them in many of his stories and was even involved with the English Folk Dance Society. Being something of a dance aficionado yourself, you really want to include some reference to this in your paper, though you don’t want to take your eyes off of your paper’s main thrust.

You try to include one or two paragraphs about the topic in your paper, but no matter how you phrase it, it seems to interrupt your narrative flow. In other words, it seems out of place. Short of changing the topic of your paper to something like “English Country Dance in the Novels of Thomas Hardy”—which you don’t really have time to do—you have three choices: (1) Leave the paragraphs in, (2) take them out, or (3) remove them from the body of the paper and put them in a footnote instead.

Option one might be risky, as it might hurt your grade, since your paper seems to be going off topic. The second approach avoids this problem, but it might be frustrating. The third option, I would argue, might be the best solution. You get to include information you’re really passionate about without interrupting your narrative flow; it also makes you seem scholarly without really trying—just check the endnotes found in the back of practically any university press found in your school library, if you don’t believe me.

P.S. I find many students don’t realize their word processing program contains commands to create and insert footnotes and endnotes. I’ve seen graduates of prestigious Ivy League colleges do footnotes by hand, inserting superscript numbers and trying to guess how much space to allot at the bottom of the page to put the footnote in. That’s a lot of unnecessary work. Give yourself a break, learn the command and save yourself time and aggravation.

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