Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Footnote: There Has to be a Better Way

I just spent nearly nine hours during the last three days correcting or more accurately standardizing 68 footnotes for a paper that will be published as a chapter in an anthology. Most of the work was in making sure that periods, commas and parentheses all corresponded to the Chicago Style. In particular I found having to provide the full publishing information each time a work was first cited as a footnote to be an exercise in redundancy. The Chicago Style requires a works cited page which already has all this information. Thus I think providing the author's name, the title of the work and the page number should be sufficient for all the footnotes. If a reader wants to know the city of publication, the publishing house or the date of publication he can look the source up by name and title on the works cited page. But, for some reason the people who came up with the stylistic guidelines for the Chicago Style wanted me to spend hours copying and pasting publishing minutia from the works cited page to the footnotes. I am not sure why this replication is deemed necessary, but it caused me to spend over a full work day engaged in mind numbing drudgery.

I realize that for academic work there really is no substitute for the footnote. Although as I note above I think they should all be simplified with the full publishing information limited to either a works cited page or a bibliography. But, for popular works I find footnotes to be annoying. Unless it is an outrageous claim I do not generally bother checking the citations in works aimed at a non-scholarly audience. A number of people have told me they like footnotes because they serve as lists of suggested further reading. I agree that lists of suggested further reading are helpful, but I think that there are better ways than footnotes to provide them. Right now for my popular history, Catherine's Grandchildren: A Short History of the Russian-Germans under Soviet Rule, I am dispensing with footnotes in favor of having a short bibliographical and historiographical essay on each chapter at the back of the book. These essays will deal with the major sources I used in writing the chapter. Due to the nature of the book's intended audience I will be giving special emphasis to those sources available in English. I think that this is a better way to provide information both on the book's source base and give readers suggestions for further reading on the topic.

1 comment:

Sean Guillory said...

You really should consider investing in Endnote. This will save you tons of time with the drudgery. It will keep all your footnotes in order and allow you to switch styles with the click of the button. I'm using it for my dissertation and its a godsend!