Thursday 16 March 2006

Footnotes or endnotes?

I agree with Rory Shiner when he laments the triumph of endnotes over footnotes in contemporary publishing. I love reading notes, and in a footnoted book I generally read all the notes—but in an endnoted book it’s just not worth the effort. In spite of the ubiquity of endnotes today, and in spite of their typesetting convenience, have you ever met anyone who actually preferred endnotes?


Anonymous said...

I actually prefer sidenotes to both. I have found very few books that do this, but it is much more natural for my eyes to go to the side rather than jump to the bottom. See The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst for such an example.

Anonymous said...

Just read Pelikans history of the doctrines, and found sidenotes quite nice, even though I - without doubt - prefere footnotes. Endnotes are harmfull. I never even go through the adventurous effort to look for the right one.

Jim said...

I actually use internal notes. That is, as you write along, just insert the cite in a parentheses (Cf. Z IV, 321). It's terribly easy and makes so much more sense. I loathe endnotes and if it's a choice between end and foot- give me foot. And in contrast to the previous commentators, I dislike side notes. They don't leave room for my own marginal notes.

Guy Davies said...

When reading a scholarly tome with copious endnotes, that I read dutifully, my sister asked me if I was looking up the answers! So, its footnotes for me. I don't want to be accused of cheating. Also I have to use two bookmarks with endnotes, with the additional one in the notes section for easy reference. How sad is that?

Guy Davies

Anonymous said...

Some postmodern thinkers suggest that the less accessible the notes, the more likely they are to contain subversive voices from the margins, crying out to be heard, destabilizing the totalising text; and therefore all the more reason to make the effort to track them down and listen to what they have to say. More pragmatic readers take the alternative view: "complete bollocks!"

As a compulsive reader of notes - and with exceptions, of course - I tend to be of the "complete bollocks" school of thought. However I plod on.

Stephen G said...

My view is that endnotes are spawned from the abyss. And endnotes that occur at the end of a book rather than the end of a chapter (or essay in book) doubly so. Footnotes work well for me because I always read the citations and continually flipping to the back interrupts the flow of reading.

Sometimes I just photocopy the relevant endnotes and leave them beside me while I read the book section.

Also having just read some of Pelikan's history of the doctrines I have to say I'm not a fan of sidenotes either. Seemed a little harder to identify exactly which reference was in context sometimes. (Also if you're not familiar with the sources cited you have to flip to the "frontnotes" to decode them.) However I do like having the occasional relevant quote in the margins.

Of course, all these difficulties pale in comparision to books with *no* notes and no index.

Richard H said...

"They say that they use end notes instead of footnotes because footnotes are not "welcoming to the average reader". "

Or maybe not welcome to the average typist in the pre-computer days. These days of automatic formatting sure are nice.

And my vote (as a note reader) is for footnotes.

::aaron g:: said...

Ben, this should be your next poll question.

(If you don't want it, I'll take it and you can send your hundreds of readers over to my little blog!)

Timbo said...

So it seems I shall be the lone voice of reason in this - and not just because I have a messiah complex (though it is possible). I prefer endnotes (chapter endnotes, not notes at the end of the text - which are from the pit)! However, the best notes of all are, of course, internal notes in parenthesis (this is an undisputed fact). Following internal notes I do quite like sidenotes - much more comfortable and natural, very easy to follow. Only then do endnotes get a look in; followed in last place by the ugly, silly, unnatural, and unnecessary footnotes.

I think there is a very clear correlation between the amount of footnotes on a page and the quality of a writer. In this case, less is more.

Ben Myers said...

Sorry about that violent tremour[1]. That was the sound of me shuddering in horror at the mention of "internal notes in parenthesis"[2], which are a truly hideous innovation.

[1] A "violent tremour" may also be described as an intense trembling of nervous agitation.
[2] Cited from Timbo's nefarious comment.

Chris Tilling said...

Being a Christian, I think the only way to deal with the publication houses that insist on endnotes, is to either a) skin the management alive (in love) or b) force them to listen to Christian rock.

Anonymous said...

I'm in complete agreement with Tilling. Folks who use endnotes are clearly possessed and need a good exorcism. And I believe Dante has a special circle reserved for Timbo. ;-)

Seriously though, I far prefer footnotes to anything else. Pelikan's sidenotes are cute, but it's sometimes hard to tell what the note refers to. I do like the huge margins it provides, though.

Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


In the classes I teach I require footnotes - anyting else if from the Devil.

Anonymous said...

Footnotes, dude!

I enjoying finding out where a writer's info comes from up front!

I also like all those cute, often times nonsensical, digressions . . . .

T.B. Vick said...

Yuk! End notes are the devil's work! 8-)

lsnduck said...

There is one place that I find endnotes acceptable and that is in works of fiction. It seems better to keep the notes tidied up out of the way as I find that fiction notes tend to be explaining cultural or biographical references and you often know them already.

Otherwise, feet all the way.

Anonymous said...

For those having problems with MS-Word placing the footnote on the wrong page, I have a solution. Apparently, Word is too simple to be able to calculate line heights properly. If you use single or double spacing in your styles, Word is incapable of determining how much space is available at the bottom of the page until after it has written to the end of the text block. It then places the footnote in the next available space, the following page. To solve the problem, switch your MS-Word styles in the Normal template to use fixed height lines. I use 12pt lines with an 11pt font, or 24pt for double space. You also need to set the line height in the "footnote text" style. I use 11pt lines and a 9pt font. If you change your Normal template, then you will not need to correct these things everytime you start a new paper.

Since making this change, I have not seen another misplaced footnote.

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