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

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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.

Here’s a quick comparison chart:

Parenthetical Citations Footnotes
Used in MLA, APA, author-date, etc. Used in notes and bibliography style of Chicago
Used in author-date style of Chicago Used in notes and bibliography style of Chicago
Found in the body of the research paper Found in the body of the research paper
Used to cite a direct line of text or paraphrase Used to cite a direct line of text or paraphrase
Author-date form of citation within the body of the research paper Found at the bottom of the page where the work is cited within the body of the research paper
Placed directly after the quote or paraphrase within the body of the research paper

Example:  (Ackerman, 2016, p. 8)

Citation noted by a number, with a brief citation in the footnote

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

1. Ackerman, Genius of Birds, 8.

Full citation found in Works Cited page Full citation found in Works Cited page

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.

Let’s look at a few parenthetical citation examples based on this:

  • Quote: “…evolution isn’t about advancement; it’s about survival” 
  • Source type: Book
  • Page number: 8
  • Author: Ackerman, Jennifer
  • Title: The Genius of Birds
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • Year published: 2016.

Parenthetical examples

Here’s are examples of parenthetical citations based on the above:

MLA format:

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

APA format:

Contrary to what most people think, “…evolution isn’t about advancement; it’s about survival” (Ackerman, 2016, p. 8).

Chicago author-date format:

Contrary to what most people think, “…evolution isn’t about advancement; it’s about survival” (Ackerman 2016, 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.

MLA format:

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

APA format:

Ackerman (2016) goes on to state that “…evolution isn’t about advancement; it’s about survival” (p. 8).

Chicago author-date format:

Ackerman goes on to state that “…evolution isn’t about advancement; it’s about survival” (2016, 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:

MLA format:

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

APA format:

Ackerman, Jennifer. (2016). The genius of birds. Penguin.

Chicago author-date format:

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


Parenthetical quick guide

MLA parenthetical citations

APA parenthetical citations

Chicago parenthetical citations


Footnotes

Let’s now discuss footnotes. Footnote citations are also found in the body of a research project, but footnotes look different from 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.


Published October 31, 2011. Updated August 19, 2020.

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