The Demise of Footnotes

Non-fiction publishers and editors are increasingly moving away from footnotes. As a casual reader I understand this. Notes can interrupt the flow of the work and are often ignored. As a researcher and writer, I am unsettled. My academic training was always to note your sources, and this is still encouraged in education, helping in the fight against plagiarism.

A reader once asked me why I included footnotes. I replied that it allowed him to consult the original source. He asked why he would bother, and I suspect that is a common attitude. Researchers bother because they want to separate fact from fiction. You simply cannot trust that the writer has given you all the information needed to form an impartial opinion.

I have read hundreds of books about Jack the Ripper and am yet to find one, including my own, which is entirely error-free. Sometimes I suspect the authors have invented information. Without knowing their sources, it is hard to check and thus their fictions get presented as fact.

Ultimately readers have to decide if they want to be entertained by a good story or know that the facts are correct.

Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction best known for his Jack the Ripper Suspects: The Definitive Guide and Encyclopedia.

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