Citation, Documentation of Sources

Q. Invariably, when I’m reading historical text, I want to follow a footnote number to its note. In most cases, these are grouped at the end of the book by chapter, each set of notes beginning with 1. I have to go back to the beginning of the chapter to find out what chapter I’m currently reading, then go to the back of the book, find that chapter’s listing of notes, and hunt for my number. The system cries out for a more reader-friendly method.

All notes should be numbered consecutively and then grouped by chapter in the back. This way, I could simply go to the back and look up my note number. And, if I was just interested in that chapter’s notes, they would all be together. It would be a one-step look-up—not the three-step method explained above. Footnote numbers are merely pointers: who really cares how high they go, if they work simply and efficiently?

A. Chicago books normally address the issue in a couple of ways. First, the running head on the left-hand page in the text shows the chapter number; second, the running heads in the notes section consist of “Notes to Pages 000–000.”

It used to be time-consuming to renumber notes if any were added or deleted during editing (which they invariably are). It saved a lot of time and trouble to renumber only one chapter’s notes instead of all the notes to the end of the book. It is still the case that in books where an author refers to note numbers explicitly (“see above, n. 8”; “see below, n. 42”), automatic renumbering does not include such references, leaving errors. (We have yet to receive a MS where the author linked such references electronically.)

Another reason for numbering chapters individually is that chapters are sometimes disseminated (even printed) as separate units, especially in volumes where each chapter is by a different author. In that case, beginning a chapter with a high note number is inelegant and possibly confusing. And in scholarly books like the ones we publish, it’s not unusual to have more than a thousand notes.1,297 (How elegant is that?)1,298

It’s not that there’s never a case for numbering notes straight through; occasionally we do it that way. But it’s a trade-off of conveniences, and for now, we feel that our current system is optimal.