“How Beautiful Are the Feet”

The Use of Footnotes in General Conference Reports

Scott L. Howell, Jesse Vincent, and Lauryn Wilde

Scott L. Howell, Jesse Vincent, and Lauryn Wilde, "'How Beautiful Are the Feet': The Use of Footnotes in General Conference Reports," Religious Educator 24, no. 2 (2023): 14–33.

Scott L. Howell (scott.howell@byu.edu) is an assistant teaching professor for Religious Education in the Department of Church History and Doctrine.

Jesse Vincent (jesse_vincent@byu.edu) is a text analysis specialist in the Office of Digital Humanities at Brigham Young University. He assists scholars in creating textual corpora for their research. He is also a developer for WordCruncher, software designed to search, study, and analyze digital texts for discovering insights.

Lauryn Wilde (lauryn.wilde101@gmail.com) is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University majoring in editing and publishing. She currently works in the Office of Digital Humanities assisting in data collection, text analysis training, and website development.

photo of president nelsonThe usage of footnotes in general conference addresses has surged since 1990, and this trend appears to have started with Elder Russell M. Nelson, then a newly called Apostle. Photo by Nate Edwards (detail), © BYU Photo.

Keywords: Apostles, doctrine, First Presidency, General Authorities, prophets

The usage of footnotes[1] in general conference addresses has surged since 1990, and this trend appears to have started with Elder Russell M. Nelson, then a newly called Apostle. At the time of this writing, he has amassed 1,966 footnotes over ninety-one conference addresses, more than double the footnotes of any other speaker. In recent conferences, all the Apostles (and nearly all other speakers) have used footnotes. We submit that footnotes (particularly the footnotes given by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve) merit increasing attention by religious educators and all who read these reports.

Consider an excerpt from Elder Dale G. Renlund’s address in April 2022, where he uses a footnote to teach more of the doctrine of repentance. He first says in his conference talk, “Even after sincere repentance, however, we may stumble. Stumbling does not mean that the repentance was inadequate but may simply reflect human weakness. How comforting to know that ‘the Lord sees weaknesses differently than He [sees] rebellion.’”[2] Following that gentle commentary, he next leaves a footnote that carries a more serious and direct message about repentance: “Consciously planning a sin with the callous plan to repent afterwards—in other words, preplanned repentance—is repugnant to the Lord. Those who do so ‘crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh’ (see Hebrews 6:4–6). This warning should be considered: ‘For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation’ (Hebrews 10:26–27).”[3]

Studying (and teaching from) conference footnotes opens the door to more doctrine, teaching, scripture, and testimony not included in the original broadcast. This article analyzes the use of footnotes in conference reports by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, identifies five types or categories of content for these footnotes, and suggests ways that religious educators can teach the importance of footnotes.[4] We invite all religious educators to give greater attention to the footnotes in conference reports in their personal study and teaching opportunities.

Formal Introduction of Footnotes in the Scriptures

The 1979 and 1981 editions of the Bible and triple combination, respectively, were historic and remarkable publications. They may also be considered as forerunners of the extensive use of footnotes in modern-day conference reports. Of these scripture editions, Elder Boyd K. Packer wrote that “a new, innovative system of footnoting was to be used.”[5] He also said that while “one footnote may seem a flimsy thread to tie the two together, . . . threads are wound into cords that bind together in our hands”[6] the scriptures.

Speaking of the extensive use of footnotes in the 1979 and 1981 editions of the scriptures, Bruce Harper, a member of the Scriptures Publication Committee at the time, wrote, “The footnote system in the LDS edition of the Bible has been praised as one of the most significant innovations in the printing of the scriptures.”[7] He also wrote that “with this wealth of information and enrichment aids, the footnotes are among the most valuable and interesting additions to the new triple combination.”[8] We also suggest that the footnotes in conference reports are among the “most valuable and interesting additions” to the words of Church leaders today, especially those of the Apostles!

Of the creative and inspired use of footnotes in the scriptures, William James Mortimer, who served as secretary to the Scriptures Publication Committee, shared this experience:

We were aware of [footnote] formats used in many Bibles, but felt no existing style would allow us to use the materials we planned to include in our footnotes. . . . When I returned from England, Elder McConkie invited me to bring the proofs to his home. I remember how nervous I was in presenting to him the unusual style of footnotes we had worked out. He studied the proofs carefully without comment. After what seemed to me an eternity of silence, he looked up, smiled, and said simply, “Why not!” The Spirit bore strong witness to me that the format was acceptable, and with the later approval of the full committee, we went ahead.[9]

The innovative introduction of this new style of footnoting in scriptures would soon be followed by increased usage of footnotes by Church leaders in the official conference reports of the Church.

Conducting Research on Footnotes

To analyze the use of footnotes by Apostles, we created a dataset of all footnotes from extant general conference talks available since 1839.[10] The data was made accessible through the WordCruncher software and database,[11] which includes digitized versions of all general conference talks from 1839 to the present.[12] We exported all of the footnote data from WordCruncher into an online spreadsheet editor (Google Sheets) for further analysis after capturing the following data for each footnote: the year and session of the general conference talk, the speaker, whether the speaker was an Apostle at the time the talk was given, the title of the talk, the context of the footnote (the text directly preceding the superscript footnote),[13] the actual footnote text, and whether the footnote cited a scriptural reference.

At the time of this writing, this database includes information for 21,329 footnotes[14]—every footnote identified since official conference reports were recorded beginning in 1839. We explored the footnotes and the context in which they were given in order to identify thematic categories of footnotes used over the years,[15] who used the footnotes most, and even which speaker wrote the longest footnotes.[16]

The Use of Footnotes in Conference Reports

A total of 21,329 footnotes are recorded in general conference reports of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1839 to the October 2022 general conference—the most recent conference at the time of this writing. Of those footnotes, 13,529 (63 percent) were prepared by General Authorities who were serving as members of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the time; the remaining footnotes were prepared by other General Authorities and Officers of the Church.

graph of total footnotes used per yearFigure 1. The frequency of footnotes used in general conferences from 1970 to 2022, shown by year.

Few footnotes were used by Church authorities in the first 150 years of the Church, but beginning in the early 1990s, some Church leaders began to use footnotes more regularly and frequently. Between April 2013 and October 2022, 10,406 footnotes were created. This means that nearly 50 percent of the total number of footnotes extant at the time of this writing are from the last decade alone! The remaining half of the footnotes were given during the four decades prior to 2013. A total of 1,335 footnotes were used in the year 2022 (see fig. 1). Now nearly every speaker in general conference uses footnotes in their talks.

graph of Pres. Nelson footnote usage per yearFigure 2. Russell M. Nelson’s footnote presence compared to all Apostles serving during a given year.

During the early years of his service as an Apostle, Elder Russell M. Nelson was the only Apostle who used footnotes (see fig. 2). It was not until 1992 that two other Apostles (Thomas S. Monson and Boyd K. Packer) began using footnotes; hence, President Nelson’s percentage of footnotes used decreased from 100 to 30 percent. Although this is not apparent in figure 2, from 1995 to 2006 President Nelson still used more footnotes in aggregate than all other Apostles combined.

In 2022 (comprising the April and October general conferences), President Nelson’s contribution to the overall number of almost a thousand footnotes constituted only 6 percent, signaling the use of footnotes by almost all who gave talks in general conference that year. Readers of conference reports from that year may expect to see footnotes included with the talks of each Apostle, in addition to most other leaders giving talks. It is also anticipated that all future talks by Apostles (and by many of the General Authorities and Officers of the Church) will include footnotes.

graph of total footnotes by each apostleFigure 3. Total footnote count of each living Apostle, including talks before their calls (through October 2022).

Of the 21,329 footnotes identified in this study, President Russell M. Nelson has contributed 1,966 (over 9 percent) of them. And even though they were called as Apostles at the same time, President Nelson has used six times more footnotes than President Oaks has. The same is true for President Ballard, the next senior Apostle. However, despite this difference in amount of footnotes between some Apostles, all apostles now consistently include footnotes in their talks. Elder Gong, one of the newest Apostles, has averaged 29.7 footnotes per conference talk since his call as an Apostle and already ranks number ten of the fifteen Apostles in overall footnote count (see fig. 3); he has emerged as the most frequent user of footnotes in conference reports (see fig. 4).

graph of average footnote usage per conference talkFigure 4. Average footnote count per conference talk by living Apostle (as of October 2022).

The Importance of Footnotes in Conference Reports

Although we do not know the reasons why speakers choose to relegate some information to the footnote level, we might assume one of the following explanations:

  • Some information simply cannot be included in the main body due to the time restraints given for delivering talks.
  • The speaker may consider the footnoted information to be insightful and helpful, but not necessary to the main message.
  • The information included in the footnote provides additional context and may help answer natural questions readers may have about what was said.
  • The speaker actually seeks to teach more information to the readers, thereby rewarding them for “searching diligently” (see Doctrine and Covenants 90:24).
  • Another reason not listed here.

The only way we could know the “why” would be to ask the speakers directly, and it is likely that a variety of reasons would emerge. Whatever the reason, the footnotes are approved for publication in the official conference report by the speakers and Church Correlation Department and would not be included unless they added value to the talk.

Footnotes offer additional sources and testimony. One author, speaking about the secular importance of footnotes, shares this commentary that is also fitting for the Lord’s Apostles: “the purpose of all [an author’s] notes is to allow [the] readers to know what [the author] know[s], in the fullest possible way with the least amount of difficulty.”[17]

Each speaker certainly considers each word published in their conference report. At President Nelson’s ninety-fifth birthday gala in 2019, President Oaks noted that he has personally witnessed President Nelson make as many as “thirteen or fifteen drafts” of his conference talks.[18] Across the many drafts, speakers must spend time reflecting on the choice of footnotes as well. We submit that these footnotes given by God’s servants are important. They merit religious educators studying them themselves and then encouraging their students to do likewise.

Footnotes as a Tool

Footnotes were used historically in a variety of genres for various purposes.[19] Some of the more common uses include referencing other sources, offering additional commentary, establishing credibility, further developing a topic, connecting with an existing community, and expressing thanks.[20]

In terms of referencing sources, prophets have, of course, been citing other prophets since long before footnotes came to exist—Jesus Christ himself quoted other prophets (see Matthew 4:4; Mark 14:27; Luke 22:37; John 6:45; and 3 Nephi 22). This continued with the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ as modern-day apostles and prophets continued to cite ancient scripture. Less intrusive than in-text parenthetical citations or commentaries, footnotes allow a reader the option to choose if they will look further or not. When learners study the words of prophets and apostles, they must decide if they are willing to make a little extra effort to look at footnotes, even though it makes reading a little more “complicated.”[21] We and our students are active learners and can choose to “feast upon [all] the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3) and “let none of [the Lord’s] words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19), including words of the Lord’s servants written in the footnotes.

Footnotes allow the Apostles and other General Authorities and Officers of the Church the opportunity to share more information and provide greater emphasis on and additional witness to their subject matter—we remember the earlier example from Elder Renlund, where he used a footnote that was much more direct than the rest of his talk. Once students experience the value and power of footnotes, they will be able to consider important questions such as these: What can I learn about the Savior because of this footnote? Why did this Apostle choose to include a footnote here? What will I discover by digging a little deeper?

These footnotes contain valuable doctrines and references that will benefit those who choose to read them. While some may never use the footnotes, those that do will experience an enriched gospel study. If an Apostle of the Lord takes the time to select footnotes for his talk, there must be more that he would like to share with us—and it might just lead to the revelation we are seeking.

Five Uses of Footnotes in Conference Reports

We identified five thematic categories[22] within the footnotes: (a) references, (b) scriptural/doctrinal commentary, (c) linguistic definition, (d) personal narrative, and (e) other. After coding each of the 21,329 extant footnotes, we found that 20,553 (96 percent) are references, 345 (1.6 percent) are scriptural/doctrinal commentary, 67 (0.31 percent) are linguistic definitions, 56 (0.26 percent) are personal narrative, and 308 (1.4 percent) are considered something else or other.

Examples of footnotes from each category are included below; these examples scratch only the surface of what is buried in the footnotes of these conference talks. As you read these samples from the thousands of extant footnotes, ask what value is added by the note. Ponder its meaning and prepare to receive spiritual insight. Is this something you or someone else needs to hear?


Most footnotes are gospel citations: quotes from previous general conferences, fellow Apostles, and other sources. We combined all footnotes that only contained some kind of gospel reference into a “references” category—scripture citations, quotes, sources, and so forth. These footnotes are valuable resources given for our benefit. In this study 20,556 (96 percent) of the 21,329 extant footnotes are considered references.

Interestingly, of President Nelson’s nearly two thousand footnotes since his call as an Apostle, only 87 percent (almost 10 percent less than the 96-percent average for other speakers) of them—1,720—are references. Whether the footnote contains a single reference or multiple references, each reference will lead to greater knowledge and insight.

SpeakerContext prior to footnoteFootnote
Russell M. NelsonThe sweet power of prayer can be intensified by fasting, on occasion, when appropriate to a particular need.See Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29; 1 Corinthians 7:5; Mosiah 27:22–23; Alma 5:46; 3 Nephi 27:1; Doctrine and Covenants 88:76.[23]
Dieter F. UchtdorfWe all have things, large and small, we need to sacrifice in order to follow Jesus Christ more completely.President Nelson recently spoke of “the need for each of us to remove, with the Savior’s help, the old debris in our lives. . . . I invite you to pray,” he said, “to identify the debris you should remove from your life so you can become more worthy” (“Welcome Message,” Liahona, May 2021, 7).[24]

Table 1. Two examples of footnotes (in context) from the references category.

Consider the use of references by two modern Apostles (table 1). In the first example, Russell M. Nelson encourages readers to consider seven other scriptures that support his emphasis on the importance of fasting along with prayer. In the second example, Dieter F. Uchtdorf references Russell M. Nelson’s recent teaching about removing spiritual debris in our lives. The use of references provides additional witness to what is taught by General Authorities and Officers of the Church.

Scriptural/Doctrinal commentary

In many footnotes, speakers expound doctrine, teach from the scriptures, or give counsel on living the gospel. It is in these footnotes that they share additional teachings that they might not have had time to share in their talk. These may clarify doctrine or commentary that the speakers feel inspired to include. While the use of this type of footnote is not very common—there are only 349 (1.6 percent) instances of their use at the time of this writing—educators should be especially familiar with this commentary when it is given, encourage their students to study it too, and teach the doctrine from the commentary when appropriate. The earlier example in this article from Elder Renlund’s conference talk given in April 2022 is illustrative of this type of footnote and its importance.

Scriptural/Doctrinal commentary
SpeakerContext prior to footnoteFootnote
Russell M. NelsonWhether by birth or by adoption. Each becomes a full heir to all that God has promised the faithful children of Israel!Each faithful member may request a patriarchal blessing. Through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the patriarch declares that person’s lineage in the house of Israel. That declaration is not necessarily a pronouncement of his or her race, nationality, or genetic makeup. Rather, the declared lineage identifies the tribe of Israel through which that individual will receive his or her blessings.[25]
Neil L. AndersenWe seek to know the Lord’s will and to proclaim it, especially to those who seek eternal life.Don’t be surprised if at times your personal views are not initially in harmony with the teachings of the Lord’s prophet. These are moments of learning, of humility, when we go to our knees in prayer. We walk forward in faith, trusting in God, knowing that with time we will receive more spiritual clarity from our Heavenly Father.[26]

Table 2. Two examples of footnotes (in context) from the scriptures/doctrinal commentary category.

Linguistic definition

Some footnotes relate to the definition of a word, whether from English or from another language. The talk may briefly discuss the term, followed by a more detailed definition in the footnote that suggests deeper linguistic insights and profound gospel connections. The coding results of the authors yielded 67 (0.31 percent) footnotes that provide a linguistic definition.

Linguistic definition
SpeakerContext prior to footnoteFootnote
Russell M. NelsonThe word religion literally means “to ligate again” or “to tie back” to God.When a baby is born, the umbilical cord is doubly ligated and severed between those two ligatures. A ligature is a tie—a secure tie. The word religion comes from Latin roots: re, meaning “again” or “back to,” and likely ligare, meaning “to tie” or “to ligate.” Thus, we understand that religion “ties believers to God.”[27]
Dale G. RenlundJoy is one of the inherent results of repentance. The word repent connotes “to perceive afterwards” and implies “change.”The Greek word metanoeo literally means “‘to perceive afterwards’ (meta, ‘after,’ implying ‘change,’ noeo, ‘to perceive’; nous, ‘the mind, the seat of moral reflection’)” (see James Strong, The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible [2010], Greek dictionary section, 162).[28]
Gerrit W. GongCovenant belonging with God and each other includes knowing our spirit and body will be reunited in resurrection and our most precious relationships can continue beyond death with a fulness of joy.I am told the Hebrew word for family—mishpachah—comes from a Hebrew root word (shaphahh) meaning “to join or bind together.” Every role within the family is designed to strengthen family bonds.[29]

Table 3. Three examples of footnotes (in context) from the linguistic definition category.

Personal narrative

Whether the speaker shares a story from their own life or from the life of someone they know, footnotes of personal narrative are almost always the most interesting footnotes to read. They provide personal and sometimes even intimate details and feelings, usually of the speaker and their family or someone else close to them. Unfortunately, this is the least common type of footnote: only 56 (0.26 percent) personal narrative footnotes were identified.

Personal narrative
SpeakerContext prior to footnoteFootnote
Russell M. NelsonOh, how I needed my wife’s vision, grit, and love! I went back to work and learned more. If it weren’t for Dantzel’s inspired prodding, I would not have pursued open-heart surgery and would not have been prepared to do the operation in 1972 that saved the life of President Spencer W. Kimball.In 1964 President Kimball set me apart as a stake president and blessed me that the mortality rates would decline in my pioneering efforts with operations on the aortic valve. Little did either of us then know that eight years later, I would be doing an operation on President Kimball that included replacement of his incompetent aortic valve.[30]
Quentin L. CookLove and kindness are at the center of having Zion in our hearts and homes.I was fortunate to grow up in a home where peace prevailed. This was primarily due to the influence of our mother, who was a faithful member of the Church. My father was outstanding in every way but was less active. Mother honored our father and avoided contention. She taught us as children to pray and attend church. She also taught us to love and serve each other (see Mosiah 4:14–15). Growing up in such a home provided peace and has been a great blessing in my life.[31]
Neil L. AndersenThe location of a temple. . . comes by revelation from the Lord to His prophet, signifying a great work to be done and acknowledging the righteousness of the Saints who will treasure and care for His house through generations.In the fall of 2001, while living in Brazil, I enthusiastically shared with President James E. Faust of the First Presidency many impressive facts about the Saints living in the city of Curitiba, hoping he would pass the information on to President Gordon B. Hinckley. President Faust stopped me midsentence. “Neil,” he said, “we don’t lobby the President. The decision of where to build a temple is between the Lord and His prophet.” The Curitiba Brazil Temple was dedicated in 2008.[32]

Table 4. Three examples of footnotes (in context) from the personal narrative category.

Other footnotes

The rest of the footnotes fall into the other category, and 308 (1.4 percent) were identified. They may contain statistical information, additional instruction or clarification about a concept, announcements about subtle shifts or changes in word choice among members of the Church, or any other commentary that does not fit into the previous categories.

Other footnotes
SpeakerContext prior to footnoteFootnote
Russell M. NelsonMy professional years as a medical doctor gave me a profound respect for the human body. Created by God as a gift to you, it is absolutely amazing! Think of your eyes that see, ears that hear, and fingers that feel all the wondrous things around you. Your brain lets you learn, think, and reason. Your heart pumps tirelessly day and night, almost without your awareness.Other God-given mechanisms are also at work in your body. Elements like sodium, potassium, and calcium and compounds like water, glucose, and proteins are essential for survival. The body deals with gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide. It makes hormones like insulin, adrenalin, and thyroxin. Levels of each of these and many other constituents in the body are auto-regulated within certain bounds. Servo-regulatory relationships exist between glands of the body. For example, the pituitary gland at the base of the brain emits a hormone to stimulate the cortex of the adrenal glands to produce adrenal cortical hormones. Rising levels of cortical hormones in turn suppress the pituitary’s output of the stimulating hormone and vice versa. Your body temperature is maintained at a normal range of 98.6°F (or 37°C), whether you’re at the equator or at the North Pole.[33]
Neil L. AndersenIt is concerning that even in some of the most prosperous countries of the world, fewer children are being born.For example, if the United States had maintained its fertility rate of 2008, just 13 years ago, there would be 5.8 million more children alive today (see Lyman Stone, “5.8 Million Fewer Babies: America’s Lost Decade in Fertility,” Institute for Family Studies, Feb. 3, 2021, ifstudies.org/blog).[34]
Quentin L. CookThe new home-study resource provides “Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Family Home Evening.”See Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families, 4. Individuals and families determine what part of the home gospel study, home evening, and family activities will be family home evening (which many already call home evening). Because individuals and families will make this determination, home evening and family home evening have been used interchangeably in the adjustments that have been announced.[35]

Table 5. Three examples of footnotes (in context) from the other category.

Some Suggestions for Teaching Students about Footnotes

Regardless of the category of a given footnote, each one offers a great opportunity for each learner to engage in deeper gospel study. Doctrinally, it doesn’t really matter if President Nelson’s footnote is a reference or a narrative—what matters is what the Lord would have the student learn from the prophet’s words. The Spirit touches hearts that are prepared to receive revelation; reading a footnote may open our hearts and minds to receive the greater light and knowledge that the Lord so desperately wants us to have.

What is most important is that religious educators introduce the footnotes of general conference reports to students. An informal survey of fifty-five students enrolled in The Living Prophets (REL C 333) course at BYU reported that 70 percent of students had never looked at or referenced the footnotes in general conference addresses either online or in the Liahona magazine. While we caution against broad generalization of this sample, it is likely that many seminary and institute students have not referenced footnotes and therefore have not come to know of their importance. Below are some ways to introduce footnotes to learners.

  1. Teach students how to “unhide” footnotes in the Gospel Library app. In the top right-hand corner of the app is a three-dot symbol. Click this, and a drop-down menu will appear. Next, click “Settings,” then toggle off “Hide Footnotes.” This will enable the visibility and hyperlinking of footnotes in conference talks.
  2. Take a minute or two to acknowledge the importance of footnotes (whether in seminary, institute, college-level religion courses, or classes at church) and show students an example. This is all that is needed for many to incorporate footnotes into their study of conference talks.
  3. Create thoughtful assessments (for example, fun quizzes using a polling tool like Kahoot! or open-book quizzes, worksheets, and tests) that may include use of the footnotes. This is one of the best ways to encourage students to dig a little deeper and think more critically about their readings of gospel materials such as general conference talks.
  4. Introduce fun into students’ gospel study through a conference report scavenger hunt including footnotes (and other elements of the talks such as titles, kickers, and images).


The near-ubiquitous use of footnotes in official general conference reports is a recent phenomenon tracing back to the early years of President Russell M. Nelson’s service in the Quorum of Twelve apostles. The five types or categories of footnotes that latter-day apostles and prophets use primarily include references with some scriptural/doctrinal commentary, linguistic definition, personal narrative, and other pertinent information.

We also provide suggestions for religious educators to consider as they teach the importance and use of footnotes in conference reports. These suggestions include teaching students how to access (and unhide) footnotes in Gospel Library, including content from the footnotes in instruction and assessment, and considering some activities to engage with footnotes, such as scavenger hunts.

How beautiful are the footnotes[36] of God’s servants in general conference reports! How grateful we are for all the words of God’s servants, including those placed in the footnotes of general conference! As teachers of the words of his servants, may we let “none of [their] words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19).


[1] Even though they are technically endnotes since they are positioned at the end of each conference report, the broader term footnotes is used both in the interface of the Church website and on the Gospel Library app.

[2] Dale G. Renlund, “Your Divine Nature and Eternal Destiny,” Liahona, May 2022, 76.

[3] Renlund, “Your Divine Nature,” 77n34.

[4] While the use of footnotes in general conference reports was the primary focus of this study, future study is merited regarding the emergence and use of other elements in the conference reports, namely titles, kickers (short quotes capturing the main message of the talk and situated immediately below the title), and images.

[5] Boyd K. Packer, “Scriptures,” Ensign, November 1982, 52.

[6] Packer, “Scriptures,” 53.

[7] Bruce T. Harper, “The Church Publishes a New Triple Combination,” Ensign, October 1981, 9.

[8] Harper, “New Triple Combination,” 14.

[9] William James Mortimer, “The Coming Forth of the LDS Editions of Scripture,” Ensign, August 1983, 35–41.

[10] Complete texts are not available for the earliest general conference talks given between 1830 to 1839. The Joseph Smith Papers has gathered some sermons from Joseph Smith during these early years of the fledgling Church, but only a few summaries exist today.

[11] “WordCruncher: Search, Study and Analyze,” v.7.1.107 (Digital Humanities, Brigham Young University, 1991–2022), Windows 10, app by Jason Dzubak, James Rosenvall, and Monte Shelley. Software available at https://wordcruncher.com.

[12] The early versions of general conference from 1853 to 1868 are included in the Journal of Discourses and other sermons and talks in conference reports and addresses.

[13] Footnotes are meaningful in part because of the context in which they are given. In order to preserve the intended meaning, we extracted the text prior to the footnote (up to the beginning of the paragraph).

[14] Spanning conferences from April 1971–October 2022. In 1971, the Church switched from only using in-text parenthetical citations to also including footnotes. While the majority of general conference addresses include footnotes, there were a few talks in the October 2022 conference that used in-text citations instead of footnotes. The online database of footnotes can be found in the BYU-ODH GitHub repository here: https://github.com/BYU-ODH/general-conference-footnotes-db.

[15] Categories were informed by contemporary usage of footnotes in the English language and by observation of the way that general authorities and officers of the Church tend to use footnotes in the conference report.

[16] Richard G. Scott holds the record for the longest footnote, which was 744 words long and comprised eight full quotes from other general authorities. Sharon Eubank is in second place—her footnote was 511 words long and included seven full quotes. See Richard G. Scott, “Make the Exercise of Faith Your First Priority,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2014, 94–95n6; and Sharon Eubank, “Turn On Your Light,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2017, 9n1.

[17] Francis A. Burkle-Young and Saundra Rose Maley, The Art of the Footnote: The Intelligent Student’s Guide to the Art and Science of Annotating Texts (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1996), 19.

[18] “President Nelson’s 95th Birthday Celebration,” September 6, 2019, video, 1:28:50, www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media/video/2019-09-1000-president-nelsons-95th-birthday-celebration.

[19] Notes have been written in the margins of the text for hundreds of years, but the first known footnote appeared in the “Bishop’s Bible” in 1568. It wasn’t until the 17th century that footnotes became a standard practice in a variety of genres. See Keith Houston, Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, & Other Typographical Marks (New York; London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013), 111.

[20] See Burkle-Young and Maley, Art of the Footnote, 19; and Neal Lerner and Kyle Oddis, “The Social Lives of Citations: How and Why Writing Center Journal Authors Cite Sources,” Writing Center Journal 36, no. 2 (2017): 241–243.

[21] See Patricia S. White, “Black and White and Read All Over: A Meditation on Footnotes,” Text: An Interdisciplinary Annual of Textual Studies 5 (1991): 86; and White, Interacting with Print: Elements of Reading in the Era of Saturation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018), 271.

[22] These themes were the most prevalent across all speakers. Many more additional subcategories could have been created, but for clarity and simplicity, these main categories were chosen.

[23] Russell M. Nelson, “Sweet Power of Prayer,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2003, 7, 9n14.

[24] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Our Heartfelt All,” Liahona, May 2022, 124, 125n8.

[25] Russell M. Nelson, “Let God Prevail,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2020, 94, 95n16.

[26] Neil L. Andersen, “Following Jesus: Being a Peacemaker,” Liahona, May 2022, 19, 20n15.

[27] Russell M. Nelson, “Let Your Faith Show,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014, 29, 32n1.

[28] Dale G. Renlund, “Repentance: A Joyful Choice,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2016, 122, 124n4.

[29] Gerrit W. Gong, “We Each Have a Story,” Liahona, May 2022, 45, 46n26.

[30] Russell M. Nelson, “A Plea to My Sisters,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2015, 96, 98n9.

[31] Quentin L. Cook, “Personal Peace in Challenging Times,” Liahona, November 2021, 91, 92n29.

[32] Neil L. Andersen, “Thy Kingdom Come,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2015, 120, 122–123n12.

[33] Russell M. Nelson, “Decisions for Eternity,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2013, 106, 109n8.

[34] Neil L. Andersen, “The Personal Journey of a Child of God,” Liahona, May 2021, 47, 49n20.

[35] Quentin L. Cook, “Deep and Lasting Conversion to Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2018, 9, 12n6.

[36] See Romans 10:15; Isaiah 52:7; Mosiah 15:18; and Doctrine and Covenants 128:19.