Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Question About Endnotes

Endnotes have been bugging me forever, and I am wondering if anyone can give me a remotely plausible explanation for their existence. Obviously papers need notes, but footnotes seem to do the job just as well as endnotes. Yet most academic books and journals continue using endnotes; many even require them. This annoys me to no end.

Here's the thing: reading a book or a print article with endnotes is a pain, because I basically have to use two bookmarks and constantly flip back and forth (depending on the number of notes), which makes me lose the thread and forces me to constantly reread paragraphs (it's also impossible to do when reading with one hand while trapped in a crowded subway car). Nowadays, more and more journals are going electronic, and reading endnotes in a .pdf file, or an html without hyperlinks, is pretty much the dictionary definition of "pain in the ass." So why do so many publishers insist on endnotes?

The only reason I can think of is that footnotes make a text less aesthetically pleasing, particularly with authors whose notes take up half of every page. Thus, one might think, it's better to have a pretty text and let those who are interested in further reading go to the endnotes. But this reasoning makes approximately zero sense when it comes to academic work, particularly journal articles. Sure, some people might enjoy skimming journal articles without paying attention to the notes; but it isn't possible to read an article seriously without consulting the notes, and it makes a lot more sense to tailor the layout of academic journals to serious readers than to skimmers.

So, thoughts or explanations, anyone? Ideas on how to get the journals to stop using unreadable formats?


  1. Whilst I can't offer any explanation, I have to agree that the burgeoning use of endnotes is, for the reasons you describe, a 'pain in the ass'.

  2. I believe the existence of endnotes vs. footnotes is an artifact of how much easier the former were to create typographically (both in printing and typing) before the advent of cold type (i.e., computers). Now they're technologically obsolete, but the convention persists.

    Also, yeah, they bite.

  3. I too have been puzzled by this for a long time. Though I should note that for pdf/html documents, they aren't so bad since you can keep two copies of the file open at once.

  4. Alex, that's a good idea. I'll have to start doing that. At least for the moment, as it seems that, oddly enough, no journal editors have taken my complaint seriously. Sigh. Maybe I should ask Leiter to pose this question...