Thursday, January 20, 2011

Citations, Endnotes, References, Footnotes. Pick your poison.

I'm reading a wonderful book right now, but reading it is a bit of a pain, because of the way the notes and references work.

Popular books try to avoid footnotes, equations, and in-line references. I think publishers think, rightly or wrongly, that potential readers will see these things and perceive the book as being difficult, or stuffy, or something. Perhaps they are right. Stephen Hawking's publisher told him something like "every equation you put in the book cuts your readership in half."

So in this wonderful book, Dennett uses end notes. What this means is when he would normally put in a footnote, or a reference (he's a philosopher, so references would typically be in the footnotes) he puts a number in superscript, like this 1. Then, at the end of the book, he has all of the notes from the whole book. After that, he has the references section. This is a bit annoying, and he knows it. He even says so in the beginning, that books written like this require the scholarly reader to keep two bookmarks. In this case, the scholarly reader, yours truly, really needs three bookmarks-- one for where I'm reading, one for my place in the notes pages, and then sometimes the note will cite something I will have to find in the reference section.

I'm a big fan of e-books, but I'm very thankful I'm reading this one on paper. One thing e-books have not gotten the knack for is this problem. Page turning on a e-paper device, such as a kindle, nook, or kobo, is quite slow. It's impractical to turn back and forth to the notes and references. It would take forever. So you're stuck with just reading the book through, and then getting to the notes section and hoping you remember the context. Good luck.

But, luckily, I am reading this book on paper, and I can keep little stickers and fingers in multiple places and turn to them quickly.

E-books will need to find a good solution to this, and soon. 'Cause paper book are going bye-bye.

I would love cognitive science to be the first to use scientific principles to come up with the best way to write books, papers, and to give presentations. But that's a story for another time.

Pictured: a one-man band. He plays notes with his foot. Get it?

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