The No-fail Way to Space Footnotes

Style manuals often require that footnotes be single spaced but have a blank line between them.1

This is true for SBL style if you’re a student.2 It’s also true if you use Turabian.3

You shouldn’t try to create this spacing by entering a new paragraph after each note. You also shouldn’t try to adjust the paragraph formatting for each note.

Instead, the best way to space footnotes is by altering the “Footnote Text” style.

Once you edit the “Footnote Text” style, the formatting you specify will apply to all footnotes in your document, regardless of when you create them.

How You Should Actually Space Footnotes

To edit the “Footnote Text” style takes just a few simple steps.4

First, from the Home tab, expand the Styles panel.

Second, scroll through the list until you see the style titled “Footnote Text.” Click the drop-down button to the right of this style title, and choose “Modify….”

In the “Modify Style” dialog box, choose “Format” in the lower left-hand corner. Then click “Paragraph….”

From here, change the spacing “after” to 10 or 12 points.

If you use 10-point font in your footnotes, use a 10-point space after your footnote paragraphs. If you use 12-point font, use a 12-point space.

Press “OK.”

This will take you back to the “Modify Style” dialog box.

Decide whether you want to use this same style formatting in other documents based on the same Word template.

If so, choose the “New documents based on this template” option at the bottom of the “Modify Style” dialog box. Otherwise, leave the default “Only in this document” selected.

Press “OK” at the bottom of the “Modify Style” dialog box.

One Thing to Watch For

At this point, your document should automatically create and format footnotes with the proper spacing after them.

The only time you should need to give additional attention to footnote spacing is if you have a long footnote with more than one paragraph in it.

In this case, you’ll first want to consider whether the footnote is long enough to make it more helpful for your readers to have any discussion in it in the main text of your document.

If so, you could potentially split up the larger footnote into more than one and use the notes more purely for citations.

If you decide you want a longer, multi-paragraph note, you’ll only want to have additional spacing between that note and a following note. You won’t want additional spacing between the paragraphs within that note.

In Word, however, the “Footnote Text” style and the additional spacing you added to the end of it will apply to each paragraph in your multi-paragraph note.

In this case, you’ll need to remove the extra spacing from all but the final paragraph in the note.

You can do this either by directly modifying the formatting of the particular paragraphs where you need to omit the spacing. Or you can create and apply a different style to the paragraphs that shouldn’t have extra spacing after them.

Conclusion

Whenever you’ve finished a document, you’ll want to proofread it carefully to ensure you’re satisfied with its content and formatting.

But by adjusting the “Footnote Text” style, you’ll radically reduce the amount of time and effort you put into massaging your footnote spacing.

And having gained this back, you can reinvest it into the people and projects that matter most to you.


Tired of fighting with Word? Want to be done with frustrated hours fussing over how to get the formatting you need?

My new guide shows you how to bypass all of this so you can let Word work for you while you focus on your research.

Garrett Thompson (PhD)

For students in any graduate program, mastering the full range of available research tools is crucial for efficient and consistent productivity. Dr. Stark has mastered these tools—the most important of which is Microsoft Word…. Students eager to take their work to the next level would do well to follow Dr. Stark’s in-depth guidance.


  1. Header image provided by Fabien Barral

  2. See the Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, §3.3. 

  3. See Manual for Writers, 9th ed., §16.3.4.1. 

  4. I’m assuming you have a current version of Word via Office 365. These instructions are based on v16.0.12430.20198. They should work on other recent versions as well. But you’ll notice greater differences in the process if you have an older version of Word. 

Do You Make One of These Common Mistakes with Footnote Spacing?

Style manuals often require that footnotes be single spaced but have a blank line between them.1

This is true for SBL style if you’re a student.2 It’s also true if you use Turabian.3

You can insert this blank line a few different ways. Unfortunately, two of the more common ones can have undesirable side effects.

How Not to Space Footnotes

The two ways to space footnotes that might be most apparent are to:

  1. Enter an extra paragraph after each footnote or
  2. Format each footnote paragraph to insert extra space after it.

But each of these methods has downsides. These can cost you additional time if you want to avoid a mess at the bottom of a page.

What’s Wrong with Extra Paragraphs

If you decide to space your footnotes by inserting a new paragraph after each one (e.g., by pressing “Enter”), you can end up with a few different problems.

First, you have to manually enter the new paragraph after each footnote. So if you forget one, it won’t be there.

Second, your extra paragraph can move from after the last footnote on a page to above the first footnote on the next page.

This happens when there’s too much text on the page where the note starts to accommodate the full note and the extra paragraph that follows it. When this happens, you get an extra blank line that shouldn’t be there between the footnote rule and the first footnote on that next page (see below).

Third, Word uses a “continuation rule” whenever a footnote comes over from the bottom of one page to the next. By default, the continuation rule runs the full width of the page rather than just the first few inches.

So if your blank paragraph comes over from one page onto the next, you’ll also see the continuation rule when you shouldn’t. You’ll then get something that looks like this.

Fourth, in order to avoid these issues, you have to pay attention to the spacing after each footnote. As you edit, you may need to manually insert or remove extra paragraphs to avoid the problems they create.

All of this takes time and attention away from much more significant things you could be focusing on instead.

What’s Wrong with Formatting Each Footnote

You’re probably familiar with single or double spacing within a paragraph. But Word also allows you to insert extra space before or after a paragraph.

You can do this from the paragraph formatting dialog box. Footnotes are no exception.

You can even add spacing to all your footnotes at once with this method if you click into a given footnote, select all the footnotes (e.g., Ctrl+A), and then add the appropriate number of points after the footnote paragraphs.

If you space your footnotes using this method, you’ll get a lot fewer problems than you will with entering extra paragraphs.

In particular, Word will know that the extra space “attaches” only to the bottom of a footnote and so won’t allow just an extra blank line to roll over to the top of the footnote section on a following page.

The main downside of adding spacing via the paragraph dialog box is that your extra lines apply only once you’ve formatted each footnote paragraph individually.

In large part, you can avoid this being a problem by formatting your footnote to include extra space after them only in bulk when you think you’re finished editing.

But even then, if you continue editing and insert a new footnote, you’ll need to format that footnote as well.

So this method improves on the first but still requires you to “babysit” your footnotes more than you really need to.

Conclusion

In short, either of these common ways to space footnotes can get you a blank line between notes in a document.

They just require more hassle and cajoling than they’re worth.

Thankfully, there’s a better way to space between notes. This involves editing the style that drives those notes’ formatting in the first place.


Tired of fighting with Word? Want to be done with frustrated hours fussing over how to get the formatting you need?

My new guide shows you how to bypass all of this so you can let Word work for you while you focus on your research.

Garrett Thompson (PhD)

For students in any graduate program, mastering the full range of available research tools is crucial for efficient and consistent productivity. Dr. Stark has mastered these tools—the most important of which is Microsoft Word…. Students eager to take their work to the next level would do well to follow Dr. Stark’s in-depth guidance.


  1. Header image provided by Fabien Barral

  2. See the Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, §3.3. 

  3. See Manual for Writers, 9th ed., §16.3.4.1.