Tuesday, March 11, 2008

When to Footnote?

Mock Here's an article to recommend to student editors (and student writers) on your law journals.  It discusses--in an extremely sensible and coherent way--the appropriate use of footnotes.  The article by Professor William B.T. Mock, Jr. appeared in the International Journal of Legal Information.  Click here to download the article or view the abstract or go to http://ssrn.com/abstract=1019891.  The article is short -- only 11 pages.  It may be one that you will want to share with your writing classes as well as students on your law journals.

In the article, Professor Mock identifies and explains three basic types of footnotes: (1) references; (2) facts; and (3) ideas.

  • Footnotes for references allow readers to retrace your research and determine whether your line of analysis is correct.  They also allow future authors to build upon your work. 
  • Footnotes for facts inform readers about the informational context, support less well-known facts, and provide readers with a starting point for further reading.
  • Footnotes for ideas place your arguments and analysis in the broader intellectual context of academic scholarship on the same subject, and provide readers with a way to learn about the give-and-take of discussion on the issue.

The article goes into further detail on each type of footnote, providing helpful explanations and examples.

Here's a further taste of what Professor Mock has to say about footnotes: 

  • "Not every proposition in a law review article requires citation, nor does every footnote require cited authority."
  • "[M]any student editors and research assistants do not understand the distinctions among types of footnotes . . . ."
  • "The more obscure the fact referenced, the more necessary the reader will find the information in the footnote.  In such obscure cases, it is important to direct the reader to a source of further information."
  • "Sometimes, the footnote merely serves to resolve a textual ambiguity, where failure to do so might provide an ongoing distraction to the reader[.]"

Download the full article for further gems.  William B.T. Mock, When a Rose Isn't 'Arose' Isn't Arroz: A Student Guide to Footnoting for Informational Clarity and Scholarly Discourse, 34 Int'l J. Legal Information 87 (2006) Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1019891

Mark E. Wojcik, The John Marshall Law School-Chicago

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legalwriting/2008/03/when-to-footnot.html

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