Down with Endnotes!


One thing that made me sigh happily over the last book I read was that the footnotes were footnotes–right there at the foot of the page where I could glance down and read them and then glance right back up at the text.

The next book I picked up, however, is endnote-heavy in the extreme. We’re talking up to 10 notes per page, often multiple per paragraph, which makes for slow going if you’re flipping back and forth for each one. If they were all mere references, it wouldn’t be a problem, but there’s lots of substantive stuff back there, too, that I don’t want to miss. The book is billed as an academic text (I’m guessing it might have been the author’s doctoral thesis published for a broader audience), but the writing is certainly accessible enough for a reasonably well-educated layman, so why not make it even more accessible by using footnotes rather than endnotes?

I understand that formatting oodles of footnotes can be a challenge, but with modern page layout software, it’s hardly an insurmountable one. And I understand that oodles of footnotes on a page can be less than aesthetically pleasing, but there are ways around that, too. If I had been in charge of the publication, first I’d have folded a lot of the substantive material back into the main body of the text. That would leave us with mostly reference notes. Turn those into short-form, inline notes (the reader can refer to a bibliography for more detailed info), and suddenly the note population has been subdued. Like a vanquished army, it can now be placed under the victor’s feet. The feet of his pages, to be precise.

It all comes down to what ought to be one of the key principles of publishing anything: What will best serve the author and the reader? What will least hinder the flow of communication between them? A massive endnote section (Because That’s the Way We Do Things in Academia) fails at this goal. If the standards are god, and the editor is priest, human sacrifices will be the rule of the day. But the style guide was made for man, not man for the style guide, and Talmudic accretions ought to give way to mercy and justice! Are you with me? Down with endnotes! To arms! To arms! March on Washington! Storm the Bastille! Drat the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!

(OK, so I get carried away sometimes up here on my soapbox, but I rather amuse myself!)


3 responses »

  1. I’m with you, Valerie. Endnotes drive me nuts, but footnotes that take up the bottom third of the page, likewise…so yours is the best idea yet: Incorporate all that good juicy stuff back into the body of the text.

  2. I am SO with you! I don’t like wordy footnotes, but I totally despise endnotes (end-of-the-chapter notes are not much better). I would definitely prefer having the good stuff right in the text, but given that I want to read those notes, give them on the same page they are referenced. It’s disruptive to my reading to have to flip pages, but if I don’t and try to read them later it’s disjointed and makes little sense short of going back to the point of reference and re-reading that section. This is just too thoroughly irritating.

    I’ve had tirades with myself over this very thing in the midst of reading an otherwise good book, which doesn’t help my comprehension.

  3. I, too, despise endnotes. When I used to teach, I gave students the option of using endnotes or footnotes, whichever they preferred, on papers they wrote. However, if they used footnotes, they were counted in the length of the paper. Pages of endnotes were excluded from the page count. Most students chose footnotes.

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