How to Write A Dissertation: Footnotes and Bibliography

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Part of a series giving detailed guidance on producing academic dissertations and articles.

Articles are more helpful if they contain a list of further reading and full acknowledgements of the sources you have used.  A full record of all sources should be kept separately during the writing of the draft and then listed in a bibliography which must be placed at the end of the article. The precise way to make entries on this list varies, however. Below are some typical examples:

Douglas, M. (ed.) Rules and Meanings, Penguin, 1973.

(standard text)

Dilnot, C., 'The State of Design History, PART II, Problems and Possibilities', Design Issues, Vol.1, No.2, Fall 1984, pp.3-20.

(article in periodical)

Victoria and Albert Museum, Yves Saint Laurent, exhibition catalogue, HMSO, 1983.

(exhibition catalogue)

Remember also to list all archival sources, museum collections, unpublished theses or papers, etc.

Footnotes have two purposes. The more common is to acknowledge the origin of all quotations and/or ideas attributable to others. The basic and simplest method is to place a number in the text which refers to the source, which can be listed separately at the end of each chapter. The traditional Latin abbreviations such as 'ibid' (= the same), 'op cit' (= the work quoted), 'loc cit' (= the place quoted) can be used to avoid writing out an oft-repeated source in full each time it is cited.

The other form of footnote is sometimes called a ‘discursive footnote’. This is used to refer to or develop ideas and information that would otherwise interrupt the flow of your argument in the main text. Discursive footnotes are common in scholarly articles. They can be compared to an aside, a remark made by the way or incidentally. It is possible to write without them, but they are useful to indicate that you have depth or detail of knowledge that goes beyond what appears in the main text.


Illustrations need to be selected with care and identified fully. When you do use them, the reader will normally expect close reference to and detailed comment on them in the text. A work with many illustrations but containing no explicit reference to them in the text would be thought inadequate.

Label and identify the illustrations so that the readers may know exactly what they are looking at.

A list of illustrations, fully identified by title, artist or photographer, etc., date, and the source copied from, must be included. The date of the object depicted (and the date of the photograph where it has relevance) should be given. It is often helpful to indicate the size of an object such as a painting. Film stills need film title, director and date.


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