I’m working on a non-fiction book, the details of which THE WORLD IS NOT YET PREPARED! Fine — I’m not yet prepared to share those details. I am willing to divulge, though, that it’s a pretty research-intensive project, and I’ll be using endnotes (not footnotes) to document that research.
Looking at similar books, I see endnotes handled in three ways. Now, I’m a reader who likes to know where information is coming from, and the first method I’ll discuss makes discovering that fairly frustrating. Here, a writer gives no indication of an endnote in the main text, not even a raised (a.k.a. superscript) numeral. Instead, the reader flips to a section in the back of the book and looks for a page number with a one-, two-, or three-word link to the spot on that page. For example, on page 59 of the main text, one reads:
Poe wrote, “I have great faith in fools:–self-confidence my friends will call it.”
“Well,” I might say, “Poe is frequently misquoted, and he’s sure not famous for having written jokes in the style of stand-up comedy. Show me where he that got published!” I then look through that back section, hoping to find something like:
59 “I have great faith”: Southern Literary Messenger, 15.6 (June, 1849), p. 837.
Sometimes, the note even refers to the Bibliography, so finding the original source takes effort! But I suppose this is the least intrusive way to document one’s sources, allowing readers to get caught up in the main text without the “blips” caused by those raised numerals. Personally, I’m not at all annoyed by those numerals. In fact, they comfort me with an assurance that the writer/researcher has done some homework. “Hey, writer!” says I. “I don’t know you! I don’t trust you! Earn my trust! Over and over! Intrude a tiny bit!” Maybe that’s just me, though.
The next method involves the raised numerals, but also puts all the endnotes into one big section at the end — not the end of the chapter, mind you — but at the end of the book. This is the method I see used in most of my books, and I’m pretty okay with it. However, the numbering typically starts over with each chapter, and that makes things a touch more difficult. “Okay, you tell me that Poe once wrote a thing. I want to know where you got that. What chapter am I in? Okay, I find that chapter at the end. What was the endnote’s number again? Oh yeah. Okay. Yeah, there it is. The Southern Literary Messenger. Okay. I’m good.”
I wonder, though, if it doesn’t make sense to put endnotes with raised numerals after each chapter. Wouldn’t that make it easier still for a reader to check a source? This method is used in one or two of the books on my shelves, but I wonder if it’s rare because it’s become old-fashioned or even outdated. And, if so, have I become old-fashioned or even outdated, too?
Of course, having footnotes at the bottom of each page makes checking sources a real breeze, but then maybe the intrusiveness/distraction factor really is a concern. Footnotes, in my head, are great for clarifying what one is reading as one is reading it. Speaking of Poe, in “The Facts in M. Valdemar’s Case,” the narrator offhandedly compares Valdemar’s physicality to John Randolph. He doesn’t bother clarifying who John Randolph is or what he looked like because so many of his mid-19th-century readers knew that already. Very few readers in the 21st century do, however. That’s where I come in with some research. “Glance down at the footnote, dear reader, and learn that Randolph was a congressperson who was tall, especially in his legs. Sorry for the interruption, but you now better grasp how Poe is painting his title character. Back to the story.”
For documenting sources, though — for showing the writer is reliable and has done solid research — I don’t think one needs to be so “immediate.” One can shove that information at the end of the chapter . . . or the end of the book. But how far back should I shove it?
That’s a decision I’ll have to make before this book is complete. Any feedback to help me decide would be much appreciated. How do you like your endnotes?