Which Are Better: Endnotes or Footnotes?

First, I’m sure that we can agree that Chicago-style notes are vastly superior to the stupid in-text citations of APA. Incidentally, since Cambridge University Press journals use Chicago while the Oxford University Press journals mandate some ghastly in-text citations, we can conclude that Cambridge is the better half of Oxbridge.

But within the note formats, I prefer endnotes over footnotes: ultimately, each format takes up the same amount of space on a manuscript, but endnotes keep it tidy and neat and therefore make it easier to read, especially if you need to include non-citation, explanatory notes. Only an academic would say that turning pages is labour-intensive and difficult work!

I inadvertently kicked off an academic nerdfight on social media earlier with an off-hand comment stating what I regard as self-evident, that endnotes are better that footnotes because they keep the paper tidy. Passions run so high in the endnote-footnote controversy precisely because the stakes are so low.

I’m curious to see what some of my readers think in this poll! I seem to be in the minority.


About J.W.J. Bowden

My area of academic expertise lies in Canadian political institutions, especially the Crown, political executive, and conventions of Responsible Government; since 2011, I have made a valuable contribution to the scholarship by having been published and cited extensively. I’m also a contributing editor to the Dorchester Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law.
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4 Responses to Which Are Better: Endnotes or Footnotes?

  1. Mark Roth says:

    On the gut I prefer footnotes, but endnotes are easier: I keep a second bookmark for easy flipping between pages and need only go back when I feel like it.

    That being said, anything is better than splitting text by dropping in a parenthetical elipsis.


  2. Purple Library Guy says:

    It doesn’t matter much to me; for academic purposes as long as the citation info is all there and accurate I’m not gonna gripe. In practice I find I’m more likely to read a footnote. One can say “It’s not much effort” but that isn’t really the point. It’s more a matter of mental ‘flow’ or something–wonder what the quoted bit is from/about, cast the eyes down, read it, move up and continue before you’ve lost the thread of the argument.
    But really, that only matters if foot/end notes are being used also for annotations, like a further-away parenthesis. Quite a few people do that and end-notes are kind of a step too far away for such things. If it’s just citations it’s fine either way.


  3. Purple Library Guy says:

    Meh, that Kissinger quote is cute, but basically false. And that nasty little war criminal gets quoted way too much as it is.


  4. PierreB says:

    I wrote for a business audience (marketing research reports [note the in-text explanation]) where “neither” was the correct answer. Indeed, reports beyond Executive Summaries typically remained unread.


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