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Monday, May 7, 2007
Putting endnotes in their place
At God and the Machine ("Culling My Readers to a Manageable Elite Since 2002"), Aaron Haspel posts an interesting diatribe on endnotes. In short, he doesn't like them.
[Brian] Doherty's notes [for "Radicals for Capitalism"] receive the standard treatment, which is to say the worst possible. The notes are renumbered by chapter, but each page of notes is headed, usefully, "Notes"; the chapter titles occur only on the beginning page of the notes for that chapter. To look up an endnote, then, you have to remember the number, remember the chapter number, flip to the notes section, locate the beginning page of the correct chapter, and then flip forward to the right note number, only to be disappointed most of the time with a mere source cite.
Haspel has some suggestions -- actually, rules -- for proper endnote use. First, whenever possible, replace them with footnotes. I find footnotes distracting and un-pleasing to the eye, but if the topic is of intense interest to me, I'm with him. I want to see where the author's getting this good stuff, right away. Another rule:
Each endnote page should be headed by the page numbers of the notes it contains, to facilitate easy flipping. For example, "Notes, pp. 537-558"; not "Notes: Chapter Seven," or "Notes: A Stupid Chapter Title That I've Forgotten and Now You're Gonna Make Me Look It Up."
That strikes me as a good idea. Much of the rest I'm not so sure about. But leaving as much "scholarly detritus" out of the body of the text as possible seems right on. I agree with him, too, that there's a whopper of an exception on this last point: Jacques Barzun's "From Dawn to Decadence," which only wants to fill you in on 500 years of Western cultural life: "[The book] contains no specific source cites, only an occasional parenthesis, when discussing a topic, that 'the book to read is...' or 'the book to browse in is...' If you are a nonagenarian and the world's preeminent living intellectual, you can write like that."