Footnotes vs. Endnotes

January 9, 2007    By: Jacob J @ 10:44 am   Category: Life

I love footnotes. I hate endnotes. Why, why, why is every publication switching to endnotes? As I read old books and articles, it seems to me that footnotes were once the standard. However, in new publications, endnotes seem to be much more common. Can someone explain it to me?

Honestly, the superiority of footnotes over endnotes seems so obvious to me that I hesitate to say why I like them more, but here goes. The profoundly obvious problem with endnotes is that they are hard to keep track of. I am constantly flipping through the back of a book looking for the corresponding endnote. When it turns out to be a simple “ibid,” I curse. Later, I read an endnote which doesn’t seem to match the text it is referring to and I realize I’ve been reading endnotes from chapter 4 even though I am in chapter 5 now. I quickly try to undo the mental links I made for the previous five endnotes which were simple citations of references. I get tired of how much it breaks the rhythm of reading to flip to the back of the book for every sentence in an especially citation-heavy page. Eventually, I just give up, which is a pity, because so much good stuff is tucked away in endnotes. Putting them off at the back of the book/article implies that the endnotes are not of general interest. They certainly won’t be read by most readers of the book or article.

Since I like endnotes, I often find myself reading all the endnotes at the same time after I am done with the text. If the book is short, I can sometimes remember the text to which the endnote refers. Am I the only one who does this?

By contrast, when I read old books and articles that make use of footnotes, I keep track of every one. I keep track of what references are being cited to support what points. It is easy to quickly scan down to the bottom of the page without losing the train of thought. I can quickly see it if all the footnotes on this page will cite the same source. When additional information is available in a footnote, I usually go down and read the extra text in its proper context. Even when I don’t, I make a mental note that there is more information available on that topic if I become interested later.

Surely this affects those who write books and articles as well as those who read them. If you are a writer, do you hesitate to relegate part of your text to an endnote, knowing that by doing so you are insuring that no one but you and your editor will read it?

Since so many publications today use endnotes, I assume that there are good reasons for it, but I am genuinely unaware of what they are. Can someone fill me in? Can one of you Dialogue people make and excursion over here from BCC to educate me on why you have switched from footnotes to endnotes?[1]

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[1] Dialogue recently switched from footnotes to endnotes, starting with the Spring 2006 issue. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer issue.

18 Comments »

  1. Jacob,
    I have no idea, except that I completely agree. My only complaint about Bushman’s RSR is that it used endnotes, and I only looked at a few. It’s bad enough to have to flip back and find the right page when you’re reading sitting down at a desk; it’s evenworse when you’re reading standing up on the bus or subway and you risk a fall every time you flip to the next page, much less try to find the stupid endnote. In that (if not in much else), law reviews get it right.

    Comment by Sam B — January 9, 2007 @ 11:04 am

  2. I now use two bookmarks — on for the text and one for the matching endnotes. It helps with this problem (finding the associated endnote is much easier this way) but footnotes would still be preferable.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 9, 2007 @ 11:21 am

  3. I liked Talmages’ method of both footnotes and endnotes. His endnotes where complete thoughts which could be read seperately or appreciated in context. His footnotes where more typically, scriptural indicators.

    That said, when there are a lot of footnotes, it takes up a lot of the page and can be very distracting from the text. Even worse is when when one single footnote goes on for multiple pages of text, like in History of the Church or TOPJS. It is infuriating.

    I think 5 footnotes on the bottom of a single page are probably too many.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 9, 2007 @ 11:36 am

  4. I too strongly prefer footnotes to endnotes.

    I don’t know why there is a switch to endnotes, but my guesses would be that it is more aesthetically pleasing not to have the bottom of the page taken up with smaller font citations, and it may be simpler to produce endnotes rather than footnotes. For instance, in Word I often find that footnotes don’t necessarily line up on the correct page. But those are just wild guesses on my part.

    I like footnotes so much I entitled my book project Footnotes to the NT for LDS. (g)

    Comment by Kevin Barney — January 9, 2007 @ 11:56 am

  5. Two reasons, neither of which is likely to elicit much sympathy from either authors or readers:

    1. Page layout is vastly simpler with endnotes, and
    2. Editing footnotes as you go is easier than editing endnotes all at once.

    Number 2 might seem silly, but it describes what happened to me recently. My agency uses footnotes, so I prepared my latest draft using footnotes. My editor then requested that I convert them to endnotes until the editing process was finished, at which time they would be converted back to footnotes prior to publication.

    Comment by Last Lemming — January 9, 2007 @ 12:16 pm

  6. Whoops. Make that “editing footnotes as you go is harder than editing endnotes all at once.”

    Comment by Last Lemming — January 9, 2007 @ 12:18 pm

  7. I’m with Last Lemming (5&6). Speaking from experience, it’s much easier and more economical to set academic text using endnotes. Most often the footnotes are set in entirely separate text boxes and numbering is not necessarily automatic … so when an author sends in changes to their final, typeset proofs and says “whoops, I meant to add a footnote here and here and delete one there” it’s a pain. And often throws off pagination. And can take forever to resolve (because the house style demands that the entire footnote be on the same page and you’ve already spent a large amount of time trying to actually make this happen in a 20-page article with 70+ notes and now you have to re-kern everything …). Whereas with endnotes you simple make the changes at the end of the article. Done. Ok, I’m venting, but the bottom line is it’s faster and cheaper to use endnotes.

    That said, I’d rather not use them, especially in books. Endnotes drive me crazy, even with my multiple bookmarks. So, it it’s any comfort, anything I’m setting will use footnotes.

    Comment by JennyW — January 9, 2007 @ 12:50 pm

  8. Sam B, Good point about the subway, I hadn’t thought of that.

    Geoff, I use two bookmarks too, but it doesn’t solve it for me. I am still annoyed.

    Matt, That’s interesting. None of the things you mention disliking about footnotes has every bothered me.

    Kevin, I would gladly give up any aesthetic appeal in favor of the functional advantage (sounds like you would too). I like footnotes so much… — nyuk.

    LL, If your (2) is one of the reasons, then I can imagine a pretty simple Microsoft Word feature which would totally fix it (something to make conversion betwee footnotes and endnotes simple). Let’s hope Vista has it.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 9, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

  9. JennyW,

    When you describe the problem that way, it seems you must be on to one of the main reasons. Maybe if people would get rid of that house style rule it would be a lot simpler? Of course, Matt W. wouldn’t be happy about that. Do people really care that much about a footnote spanning pages?

    Comment by Jacob J — January 9, 2007 @ 1:05 pm

  10. Personally I think endnotes are just a cynical plot to keep anyone from checking your sources so you can say anything you want. Bwah-hah-hah-hah

    Comment by Doc — January 9, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

  11. Jacob,
    The rule as to whether a footnote can start on one page and then continue on to the next if it is too long depends on who’s in charge, and many editors/publishers don’t care. Personally, I think it looks sloppy unless the note is inordinately long. And the people paying me want them on one page, so that’s the way I do it :)

    Even with a more lax approach to how footnotes appear on a page, the bottom line is that any way you go about it they are going to take significantly more time and energy than endnotes (I’d say at least four to five times as much, on average). But I like to think that the logic behind page design and typesetting should lie in ease of use for the reader, and as the notes are an important part of academic texts they should be readily accessible (i.e., footnotes). Just my opinion … I never realized I had such strong feelings about this topic before :)

    Comment by JennyW — January 9, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  12. Also there is the growth of the amount of referencing required in a good article. In most the papers and in my thesis, I have sometimes over 20 notes per page. That is awkward for footnotes…but I think that LL has it right on.

    Personally, I don’t mind end notes at all.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 9, 2007 @ 1:40 pm

  13. I actually really like the footnote formatting of the scriptures on LDS.org and in many other online contexts. I think it is really powerful there, where the information is just a click away.

    That said, reading books online is what turned me off to multiple page footnotes.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 9, 2007 @ 1:43 pm

  14. I also vote to ban endnotes (happily, most finance and econ journals have, using footnotes for short notes and appendices for comments that are too long to conveniently fit in a bottom margin).

    Comment by Robert C. — January 10, 2007 @ 10:00 am

  15. Jacob, I completely agree.

    Comment by cchrissyy — January 10, 2007 @ 11:10 am

  16. Brother, you are preachin’ to the choir!

    Comment by Kristen J — January 11, 2007 @ 9:27 am

  17. Interesting reading this discussion in light of the advances in typesetting technology. Back in ’07, endnotes certainly were cheaper and easier to typeset than footnotes. And cheaper rules every publishing house hands-down, reader-be-damned.

    Today, however, InDesign handles footnotes just like MSWord – performs all the typesetting gymnastics automatically, links the reference to the note, and automatically updates note numbers and locations when another note is added in the middle or the pagination changes.

    In short, other than misguided inertia (“I learned that endnotes were cheaper when I was first learning, and that’s all I’ll accept as true!”), there’s no technical/economic reason to set endnotes anymore.

    Comment by MarcMcN — May 28, 2010 @ 9:00 pm

  18. MarcMcN, please be right.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 28, 2010 @ 9:21 pm

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