Footnotes vs. Endnotes: the debate

One of the little details authors fret about is footnotes vs. endnotes. It’s a style choice: should you keep a slot at the bottom of every page for notes, or collect them all at the end of the book (or chapter)? A quick survey of 10 books from the library shows:

Endnotes: 4
Footnotes: 4
No notes(!): 2

Sure, its fair to say who cares – what is in the notes matters more than where they are, but still. Don’t you have an opinion? Many folks do and get quite passionate about it. Here are the main arguments:

Footnotes. The pros: You can quickly check the note without leaving the page, and the author can stuff funny things in there. The cons: it’s distracting if there are lots of notes and can be visually ugly.

End-notes: The pros: Saves research questions to the end and keeps pages clean. Cons: the footnotes are rarely read and if they are, it’s hard to know what the author is referring to. You also have to jump back and guess where the note came from.

I ask because my book is at that stage. If you have any bright ideas, or entertaining rants, I’d love to hear them now.

Update: Decision was made and you can read about it here.

52 Responses to “Footnotes vs. Endnotes: the debate”

  1. Mark Dowie

    If I have a choice between two otherwise equal books, I’ll buy the one with footnotes at the bottom of pages. But in the end it really depends on the author and how they write their notes. If all they do is cite other authors or provide references to facts in their texts, put them anywhere you want. But if he or she is a colorful writer whose notes provide an immediate, albeit tangential addition to the text, then only footnotes work. And I try to make my non-referential notes as interesting, amusing as possible; even humorous and ironic if appropriate … sort of mini sidebars to the larger story. So when this topic comes up in the final quarter od a publishing venture, I push my editor as hard as I can to run my sidebars on the page where they originate. And I often lose that one.

    1. Scott Berkun

      You know, I agree with you. What prompted this blog post in the first place was my strong preference for good footnotes and the complaints I got sometimes. It’s curiously polarizing.

      The perhaps sad news is that I read so much on kindle now that it matters far less, as the transition cost of jumping to the footnote and back is a very different user experience, and no so costly compared to having to flip to the back of a book just to see the possibly not that interesting comment :)


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