When reading academic books of a certain size the usage of endnotes in those is killing me and my productivity. That is practically part of the definition:

Footnotes are notes at the foot of the page while endnotes are collected under a separate heading at the end of a chapter, volume, or entire work. Unlike footnotes, endnotes have the advantage of not affecting the layout of the main text, but may cause inconvenience to readers who have to move back and forth between the main text and the endnotes.
Wikipedia: Note (typography)

While there seem to be some speculative thoughts out there about the general waste of using these arcane formatting conventions it seems particularly nasty to have these endnotes in academic works, especially grievous when organised by chapters or even finer grained:

I understand that some readers don’t want to read footnotes but as part of the target demographic for academic books, as a consumer of academic books, as one who pays a considerable number of dollars for increasingly expensive academic books, I object to the rise of endnotes to the exclusion of footnotes in academic books.
The Evil Of Endnotes In Academic Books

There is the weak rationale that target demographics caused this preference, which does not make that much sense. Certain publication series, like journals, have their own tradition for how to format things, granted. But if that targeting is indeed the cause:

Why did that start? When did that start? How come this preference for disregarding the intended readership is more prevalent in American books than European books?

Looking for details on how these decisions became so entrenched I could not find any historical explanation. Neither on any conscious decision making process nor on a description or explanation of the process leading to the present situation.

Another Wikipedia article offers an unsourced explanation that points in the direction of somehow cultural preference:

Viele Herausgeber fürchten, Fußnoten könnten auf ein breiteres Publikum abschreckend wirken.
Translation: Many editors/publishers fear that footnotes could act as a deterrent to a wider audience.

Since this reasoning is not only unsourced but also quite far from making much sense and also almost contrary to some standards of tradition, ergonomics and usability, especially for historians, theologians, linguists and the like.

A seemingly comprehensive work on the subject has very little to say about the history of this exact rivalry :

But Hume also put forward some technical complaints, which he hoped Gibbon might take into account in preparing the second edition of his work, chiefly in order to make it more accessible to the reader:

He ought certainly to print the number of the chapter at the head of the Margin, and it would be better if something of the Contents coud also be added. One is also plagued with his Notes, according to the present Method of printing the Book: When a note is announced, you turn to the End of the Volume; and there you often find nothing but the Reference to an Au­thority: All these Authorities ought only to be printed at the Margin or the Bottom of the Page.

This text reveals much. It reminds us, first of all, that Gibbon's footnotes began as endnotes, and only reached what we now chink of as their traditionally prominent position on Gibbon's page after Hume complained. But it also confirms that the technical, documentary side of Gibbon's footnoting did not represent a radical innovation in exposition or format. Hume did not see the notion that citations should identify the sources of statements in a historical text as radically new.

Ten years before Gibbon brought out the first, endnoted volume of the Decline and Fall, Möser had already finished printing the first, preliminary, spectacularly documented edition of his Osnabrückische Geschichte. The early twentieth-century historian of historiog­raphy Eduard Fueter ––ever more willing to notice exceptional individual achievements than to abandon the traditional cate­gories they challenged–– und Möser's achievement surpris­ingly modern, even radical, in meth and presentation (though highly conservative in content). Möser, he admitted, did not try to conceal, but strove to reveal, the sources from which he worked. Footnotes, in short, were written by eighteenth-century historians who lived and worked in very different worlds, societies, and even libraries. The need for clearly presented his­torical documentation established itself, paradoxically, in the age of the philosophes, who despised pedantry as a form of secular superstition.

One last time, David Hume offers crucial testimony. He directed the letter in which he insisted that Gibbon make his endnotes into f tnotes not to Gibbon hi selfbut to their joint publisher, William Strahan. As he said, "I intended to have given him (Gibbon} my Advice with regard to the manner of printing it; but as I am now writing to you, it is the same thing.
Anthony Grafton: "The Footnote. A Curious History", Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1997, p 103, 116, 222.

Since when and why do some academic publishers use, prefer or enforce endnotes instead of footnotes in academic books, even in the face of that that may not the most reasonable choice?

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    Having worked with both, and having read many works with both, I have to say that I much prefer endnotes. Jun 7, 2018 at 17:10

3 Answers 3


I fairly often have to produce decently formatted printed documents. Endnotes, which I too dislike, are much easier to manage for the publisher. Footnotes on the other hand mess up your page layout big time.

If they designer of the layout complains loud enough - and those prima donnas do that very well - the publisher happily gives in.

To give you an practical example: National Geographic often has beautiful but almost useless colored graphs in articles. For example the population of an area in shades of the same color.

The artists who produce them are invariably young people with 20/20 eyesight. The editors who approve them are slightly older people with almost the same eyesight. But ... most of their readers are old fogies like me over 50 years. They have lousy eyesight and get slightly colorblind. We can't see all those darned shades.

However, as long as the readers don't complain, and the editors don't care, NG will keep those useless but colorful graphs. It's known fact men >50 can see less color variations. Problem is that nobody does anything with this known fact.

The same applies to footnote/endnotes. I prefer footnotes, even though it can screw up your graphic design. Editors look at the cost, and stick to endnotes. The editor controls the purse, so what the editor says, goes!

Short story: endnotes are cheaper and easier to manage.


It is a bit complicated...

Since printing exists, its applications created professionals who were creating documents by hand. Books, and in later times magazines, were expensive because of the necessary amount of manual work involved. On the other hand people used handwriting for their own works; even dissertations were written by hand until the 1970s, especially in mathematics.

So you have a division: The professional setting with expensive books and all other works with handwriting.

The professional work indeed eschewed endnotes for longer works, instead they used marginalia (which seem now extinct) and footnotes. Only articles in scientific journals used primarily endnotes because it was only a few pages and therefore easily accessible. The professionals also used every typography feature available: Kerning, ligatures, removing widows and orphans. The mathematical journals also developed their own tools to layout mathematical formulas. All other works were written by hand.

Then came the typewriter.
It enabled an increase in speed, but it did not support any typographical features. People used it, but began to use endnotes because footnotes were difficult to fix and looked like crap. If you look for mathematical literature from the end of the 19th century on, you will find copied typewriter books with manually inserted formulas.
It looks extremely awful. So awful that mathematicians even then preferred to write their dissertations by hand.

Fast forward, 1970s. Donald Knuth developed TeX which allowed users to develop professional looking documents with full footnote and mathematical symbol support. It is still the standard in the mathematical and technical community. On the other hand, there are those who were using Wordstar (old forgotten standard), Word and OpenOffice, who are still unable to correctly layout footnotes.

While the TeX users never had a problem with footnotes, the latter users preferred endnotes (because their programs are broken). Now the availability of powerful hardware, excellent printing capabilities and more and more content available on the Web and in digital formats led to a decline in the printing industry. Unable to be paid for high quality, printing is now more and more done by unprofessionals.

The claim that footnotes are expensive and error-prone is ridiculous; since TeX it is a solved problem. The problem is that the printing houses are not able to maintain quality, so they are now paying people who only know the Word-style endnote solution.

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    Isn't the ridiculous thing that printing houses are using people who only know Word, rather than the claim that footnotes are expensive and error-prone? It would be cheaper and more reliable if they used TeX, but they don't, so therefore footnotes are more expensive and error-prone (though they needn't be).
    – bonzo-lz
    Jun 7, 2018 at 11:13
  • Somehow reminds me of the decline of book printing as an artistic craft from beautiful incunables to just a few decades later horrible pamphlets stitched together like they were taking the first steps ever. – Note that TeX is not the only solution available, modern XEP and archaic TUSTEP are just two to mention as "also ran". Jun 7, 2018 at 11:53
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    Added in a link to Knuth's WP page, because Knuth is my homeboy.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 7, 2018 at 13:42
  • Like so may other things, technology is subordinate to labor. The number of people who are competent at Word dwarfs those who are competent with Tex. (assertion without evidence). The limiting factor is not access to TeX, but access to trained staff.
    – MCW
    Jun 7, 2018 at 13:57
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    Umm... am I missing the obvious? I use Word (vaguely remember Wordstar) and it is entirely possible to insert footnotes! Also, I did most of my undergraduate /Master's work on a manual typewriter - complete with footnotes, IIRC. I loathe endnotes!
    – TheHonRose
    Jun 8, 2018 at 22:17

The main reason for publishers preferring endnotes over footnotes is financial:

Many university presses now more or less require endnotes, since typesetting notes at the bottom of the page requires more fiddling by technicians and is therefore more expensive. Footnotes also carry the potential for added expense when corrections are made to page proofs, since even minor changes can launch a cascading mess, bumping note callouts to different pages and dragging their linked notes with them.

The 'cascading mess' referred is very real as I remember this problem when writing my PhD in the early 1990s. We were required to use footnotes and it was sometimes a nightmare when editing drafts. Texts go through several edits, sometimes adding, sometimes removing, sometimes rearranging - this last one was particularly problematic for footnotes. Also, you'd end up with tables which previously fit on a page being split between two pages or the titles of graphs appearing on one page and the graph itself on the next page.

Academic publishers

have been using footnotes regularly for about a century. Footnotes have existed for probably a couple of centuries or more but they became more regularly and widely used through the middle of the 20th century.

The use of footnotes in academic literature was still widespread in the late 1980s, but the endnote was gaining ground. The site Historiann says

...footnote-killing is a longstanding trend among non-virtual academic book publishers for at least twenty years. Most university presses and tradey U-press lines use endnotes, period.

The author of this source mentions being told that the increased cost of paper was a factor but he/she seems unclear how endnotes save paper. This could be true, though, due to the margins required on each page between the main text and the footnotes. Also, long footnotes can be difficult to deal with and make economical formatting (i.e. using the whole page) difficult, especially if the text contains images, tables, graphs etc.

Endnotes are indeed a pain for the reader, especially when using pdf files, but some Kindle books now have pop-up footnotes (just google kindle pop-up footnotes for more details).

  • I am patient ;) But that chronicle article seems to get it wrong, imo. The cascading mess is very much less of an issue when using computers (at least when using professional software like LaTeX, similar software that takes this scenario into account from the beginning, my estimate: since ca 1985 [last ditch minor corrections in AcroBot not included]), and footnotes were there before that, so it was somehwat manageable, even financially. (I've seen dissertations typewriter footnoted, that had to be a nightmare, I agree) Jun 6, 2018 at 23:16
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    @LangLangC You may be overestimating the technical sophistication of the publishing industry. I know from experience that publishers of popular computer books (who you'd think would be up on technology) often use Word or a similar office document format. Lately the quality of technical editing has dropped even further.
    – Schwern
    Jun 6, 2018 at 23:24
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    @LangLangC I wrote my thesis on a Mac SE using Word which, at the time, was probably more stable and certainly more user friendly than now. The 'cascading mess' was still a problem when editing, though certainly not an insurmountable one. People using WordPerfect were often teetering on the edge of insanity. Jun 7, 2018 at 0:04

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