Mon May 7, 2007

Nota Bene

Via Andrew Gelman, a post by Aaron Haspel about the evils of poorly-done endnotes, and endnotes in general. This is something John has written about before, too. Endnotes really are a problem in scholarly books. In general, footnotes are better. Both are better than author-in-text citations (Healy 2006).

Haspel also arues that

  1. Each endnote page should be headed by the page numbers of the notes it contains, to facilitate easy flipping. … 3. Notes should not be numbered. Numbers tax the reader needlessly, especially when they reach three figures. They should be marked by a symbol in the text … It would be especially helpful to use two symbols, to distinguish substantive comments from simple citations … 4. The notes must be indexed. … 5. The text should contain as little scholarly detritus as possible.

I agree with 2, disagree with 3 and also endorse 4 and 5. I used endnotes my own book, but did some work to keep the system friendly, especially for backreferences to works cited earlier in the text. The insane scholastic and legal conventions of ibid, idem and loc. and op. cit are especially to be avoided. I used a system where any work cited within a chapter was given a full reference in the notes, and then an abbreviated reference for any subsequent citations in that chapter (e.g., Quiggin, I Hate Endnotes).

I also did my bit to revive an older tradition, the analytic table of contents. Each chapter has a little paragraph summary on the Contents page, so that a casual reader can get a sense of the entire argument right away. Some libraries—like the Library of Congress—record tables of contents in their catalogs, so someone doing a search can get that information as well. I’d like to see more of this in other books.