Footnotes suck

When I started out in law publishing I joined a young company with a modern approach. A key point in our house style, which I was instrumental in formulating, was “We eschew [nice word that] the use of footnotes.” Why?

They don’t help the writer who has to partition their thoughts into mains and asides or mains and citations or mains and whatever; they don’t help the reader who has to jump back and forth; they don’t help the editor/publisher/typesetter/webbie who has to create and code the damn things; they don’t help anyone. Of course, loads of writers – academics especially – get off on using footnotes for precisely these reasons; let everyone suffer at the altar of my superior knowledge. Get this: if it’s worth writing, it’s worth including in the main flow. If it’s too wordy to fit in comfortably, then it probably should be somewhere else, like in a Table of X or maybe in the trash can.

I’m pleased to see there’s a Facebook group called International Coalition Against Footnotes And For Parantheticals; pity no-one seems interested.

4 thoughts on “Footnotes suck

  1. Footnotes serve a most valid purpose. They are a place where it is sensible to put material that the reader might ignore without losing a general sense of what is in the text. The best example is string cites. That gives readers the option of reading or ignoring them, which is ideal, as not all readers are offended by them.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with Nick on this one.
    Footnotes in Advocate Generals’ opinions in the European Court of Justice are the bane of my life when we try to report these cases. Tangential is not the word. These waffly divagations serve no useful purpose, apart from letting someone’s researcher’s little gems get somehow included in the magnum opus (but not so as to add anything of value). Our solution is to interpolate them (in parentheses) into the main text, and if that doesn’t work, they end up on the cutting room floor I’m afraid. ECJ opinions have got longer over the years, often because of the footnotes, but the court seems to take less notice of them these days, barely referring to them in most cases, let along adopting their conclusions. Funny that.

    And now English judges are adopting the same habits in their judgments. It needs to be discouraged.

    Eschew on that.

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