Difference Wiki

Citation vs. Footnote: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 18, 2023
A citation is a reference to a source; a footnote provides additional information or context at the bottom of a page.

Key Differences

A citation is primarily a method of crediting original sources of information, while a footnote is a note or comment placed at the bottom of a page for clarification.
In academic writing, a citation often indicates where specific data or ideas were sourced, whereas a footnote can provide supplementary information or tangential comments.
While citations are essential for avoiding plagiarism by attributing information to its original author, footnotes enhance the reader's understanding without cluttering the main text.
Most style guides have specific formats for citations, determining how to reference books, articles, or websites. In contrast, the content and style of a footnote are often left to the discretion of the writer.
A citation typically interacts directly with the content, pointing the reader to the original source, while a footnote might offer a digression, an aside, or additional context that is secondary to the main argument.

Comparison Chart


Reference to a source
Provide additional information or context


Within the text or in a bibliography/reference list
At the bottom of a page

Relation to Main Text

Directly interacts
Often supplementary


Governed by style guides
More flexibility in content


Source details (author, title, publication date)
Explanations, asides, clarifications, or source details

Citation and Footnote Definitions


A reference indicating the source of information.
Always include a citation when using someone else's work.


An additional piece of information provided for context or clarification.
The footnote offered a concise history of the event.


A way to give credit to authors for their original ideas.
The essay lacked proper citations, leading to concerns about plagiarism.


A note placed at the bottom of a page in a book or document.
She added a footnote to clarify the meaning of a technical term.


A method of acknowledging borrowed information in writing.
Proper citations ensure academic integrity in your paper.


A brief addition to a text to elucidate or cite references.
He often used footnotes to add humor or personal anecdotes.


A note within a document that refers readers to a source.
The research paper had numerous citations, indicating thorough research.


A comment or citation placed below the main text.
The author used a footnote to give credit to the original source.


A mention of a source in a standardized format.
Each citation should have the author's name, publication date, and title.


An explanatory or referencing note in a document.
The footnote provided insight into the author's thought process.


The act of citing.


A note placed at the bottom of a page of a book or manuscript that comments on or cites a reference for a designated part of the text.


A quotation of or explicit reference to a source for substantiation, as in a scholarly paper.


Something related to but of lesser importance than a larger work or occurrence
A political scandal that was but a footnote to modern history.


Where can you typically find a footnote in a document?

A footnote is typically found at the bottom of a page in a document.

Are citations essential in academic writing?

Yes, citations are essential in academic writing to avoid plagiarism and give credit to original authors.

What is the main purpose of a citation?

The main purpose of a citation is to give credit to the original source of information.

Can footnotes contain citations?

Yes, footnotes can contain citations or any additional information related to the text.

How is the format for citations typically determined?

The format for citations is typically determined by specific style guides like APA, MLA, or Chicago.

Can citations be found in the text and at the end of documents?

Yes, citations can be in-text (parenthetical or footnote) and also in a bibliography or reference list at the end.

What might a footnote include besides a citation?

A footnote might include clarifications, additional context, explanations, or asides.

Is it possible to have a document with citations but no footnotes?

Yes, a document can have citations within the text or in a reference list without any footnotes.

Can footnotes be humorous or anecdotal?

Yes, footnotes can be used in any manner the author chooses, including adding humor or personal anecdotes.

Is a footnote always required in academic papers?

No, a footnote is used at the discretion of the writer to provide additional context or information.

What's a common symbol indicating a footnote in a text?

A common symbol indicating a footnote is a superscript number or asterisk.

Are citations only for directly quoted material?

No, citations are also used for paraphrased information, ideas, or facts derived from another source.

Why are citations important in research?

Citations validate the credibility of information, allow readers to access original sources, and give credit to original authors.

Can footnotes be used in fiction writing?

Yes, footnotes can be used in fiction for various purposes, including adding depth, humor, or additional context.

In which academic style are citations typically footnoted?

In the Chicago style, citations are typically provided in footnotes.

How does a citation differ from a bibliography?

A citation refers to a specific source within the text, while a bibliography lists all sources used in a document.

What happens if a writer doesn't provide proper citations?

Omitting proper citations can lead to charges of plagiarism and diminish the credibility of the work.

Can footnotes and endnotes serve similar purposes?

Yes, both footnotes and endnotes provide additional information, but footnotes are at the page's bottom, while endnotes are at the document's end.

Are footnotes exclusive to printed materials?

No, footnotes can also appear in digital documents or online articles.

Do footnotes disrupt the flow of reading?

While footnotes provide extra information, they can be skipped and returned to, so they don't necessarily disrupt the reading flow.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons