Endnotes, again

I really, really hate endnotes. But now that I am writing a book I have to decide whether I have to swallow my pride and use them, and if not, what alternative to adopt.

To start with, I want to distinguish between explanatory notes, spelling out a point that is marginal to the main text and references giving authority for some claim made in the text, or examples or a person making a claim that I may endorse or criticise. In academic work, I’m used to the Harvard format where explanatory notes are placed as footnotes, and references cited in the body of the text as “Quiggin (2009)”, then listed in full at the end. This is much better than the all-footnotes system used, for example, in legal writing.

For a popular book on a technical subject like “Zombie economics”, there are a few options, which can be mashed up in various ways.

* The standard endnotes setup with explanatory notes and references listed at the end of the book
* Footnotes for explanation only: this leaves open the question of how to deal with references
* A further reading section at the end of each chapter, in place of references
* A book without references, but with an online hypertext version in which readers who want to chase references can find them.

Any thoughts?

29 thoughts on “Endnotes, again

  1. Footnotes, numbered, and references at the end of the main text. Having the references at the end means that they appear in full only once, and they may be succintly referred to from any chapter needing to cite them.

    As for the demise of the book, I prefer the physical book when studying from it, but use the virtual form for quick lookup and reference. Some things are just meant to be books 🙂

  2. Sidenotes make a book more accessible to a wider audience and are in bigger print than footnotes or endnotes in most cases. Versions on line do need to have live links. A quote from the original source works well at the side and can illuminate a point better than many words of description – for me anyway.

  3. While I much prefer the Harvard format, for a general readership what about using breakout boxes for explanations? They have the advantage of being standalone explanations less tightly tied to, and so less interfering with, a particular piece of the the body text.

    For references stick to Harvard as being the least intrusive while still letting those interested chase references. In fact using Harvard it’s easy to then annotate the bibliography to serve as a “Further Reading” segment.

  4. John, for this particular venture, I’d ditch footnotes and endnotes and go for the “Further discussion/reading” section/attachment/appendix to each chapter. I’m also old-fashioned enough to have it all in the same version of the book. By all means have some extended discussion elsewhere on a dedicated site on the web, but the non-specialist reader is your main target audience and the chapters need to flow (avoiding too much obtrusive detail and qualification), while ensuring there is access to enough information available to avoid the book simply being a collections of assertions and generalisations.

    “School of thought” treatments often have an element (mild or severe) of finger-pointing and name-calling about them. (“Those identifying themselves as belonging to School X tend to believe Y”, with the notion that Y as expressed is so self-evidently foolish that anyone in said school must be a nut or an ideological fanatic, or both.) The “Further discussion/reading” section should be able to provide some reasonable evidence of whether adherents of School X really do believe Y, and to what extent, and what that means, and where such beliefs were published, and how strongly they were expressed.

    This also helps anticipate the problem of “deniability” that a commenter somewhere cautioned against. (“Quiggin’s statements about Y are ridiculous and exaggerated, and it’s absurd to suggest I hold such a view literally.”)

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