What’s a Parenthetical Citation vs. a Footnote? When Do I Use Them?

Parenthetical citations and footnotes are two different types of citations used in the body of research projects. Their goal is to direct readers to information about the sources used in your research project. Parenthetical citations are often used in MLA format, APA format, and many other styles. Footnotes are often used in Chicago format citations and other styles as well. If you’re unsure of which format to use for your research paper, ask your instructor.

Parenthetical Citations

Let’s first discuss parenthetical citations, which are used in MLA, APA, and many other formats. Parenthetical citations are included in a research project when a line of text is taken directly from another source and placed in your own project. They are also included in a research project when another author’s idea is used in your research project, but is rephrased, or paraphrased, in your own words.

Here’s an example of a parenthetical citation in MLA format:

Contrary to what most people think, “…evolution isn’t about advancement; it’s about survival” (Ackerman 8).

Parenthetical citations are placed directly after the quote or paraphrase. They provide the reader with a quick glimpse, or idea, as to where the borrowed information originated. Parenthetical citations include the last name of the original author and the page number that the information was found, on in parentheses.

If the name of the author is used in the sentence, only include the page number in parentheses. Here’s an example:

Ackerman goes on to state that “…evolution isn’t about advancement; it’s about survival” (8).

As stated above, the goal of a parenthetical citation is to provide the reader with a quick glimpse, or idea, as to where the borrowed information originated. To find more information about the source, such as the title of the source and the date it was published, readers can go to the last page of a research project, called the Works Cited page or Bibliography, to find the full citation.

The full citation at the back of the project would look like this:

Ackerman, Jennifer. The Genius of Birds. Penguin, 2016.

Footnotes

Let’s now discuss footnotes. Footnote citations are also found in the body of a research project, but footnotes look different than parenthetical citations and are used in Chicago format and other styles. Their purpose is the same as parenthetical citations in that footnotes are used anytime a direct line of text or paraphrase is added into a research project. They’re also included anytime the writer wants to direct the reader to a source that might be briefly mentioned in the research paper.

The biggest difference between footnotes and parenthetical citations is that brief information about the source isn’t found directly after the borrowed text or paraphrase. Instead, the small bit of information, which includes the last name of the author and the page number, are found at the bottom of the page. Numbers are placed next to the borrowed information to help direct readers to the footnote.

Here is an example of a footnote in Chicago format:

Contrary to what most people think, “…evolution isn’t about advancement; it’s about survival.”¹

Notice the small, superscript number 1 next to the quote above. On the bottom of the page, the reader would find the number 1, and next it they’ll see the footnote.

1. Ackerman, Genius of Birds, 8.

At the end of research project, readers can find the full citation in the endnote, which would look like this:

Ackerman, Jennifer. The Genius of Birds. New York: Penguin Books, 2016.

While parenthetical citations and footnotes have the same purpose, they are structured and formatted differently. Remember, if you’re unsure of which type of citation to include in your project, ask your instructor for help.