Golden Gobbledygook Awards
Literary rhetoric and judicial writing

Oh, those pesky footnotes

Footnotes. Everybody hates them (or says they do), yet like George Romero’s zombies, they just keep on coming long after they ought to be dead. Now University of Missouri law professor Douglas E. Abrams has at them inThose Pesky Footnotes — Part I, recently uploaded to SSRN. This article addresses the uses and misuses of footnotes by practicing lawyers.

Prof. Abrams divides footnotes into two groups that most of use are familiar with: citation-only footnotes and textual footnotes. Citational footnotes can be useful, Prof. Abrams writes, if they are kept lean. They show the support for the writer’s assertions without cluttering up the text. Textual footnotes, on the other hand, are usually useless to briefwriters for one simple reason: hardly anybody reads them. And anything that is not read cannot persuade.

As the title suggests, this article is Part I. Part II will tackle footnotes in judicial opinions, academic writing, and books.


H Devaraja Rao, Bangalore, India

Encountering a footnote,someone
said, is like going downstairs to answer the door while making love.

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