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For a new edition of a 1953 book on architectural theory and history, we've made many annotations in the form of editor side notes alongside the main text, rather than as footnotes. The question concerns the writing style of the notes, specifically a truncated sentence structure/style. The notes are intended to be as short as possible and the temptation is very much to abbreviate formal sentence structure. I've waited this long, however, to address this in terms of any CMOS view on this shortened writing style. Here are three examples where figures briefly mentioned in the body text are briefly expanded upon:

  1. Hugo de Vries (1848–1935), Dutch botanist, introduced concept of genes and mutation in evolution. [Note added this edition.]

  2. Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909), Italian criminologist whose views brought a shift to scientific study of criminals. [Note added this edition.]

  3. Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt (1832–1920), German physician, philosopher. Critical catalyst for the author's immersion in research on the senses. [Note added this edition.]

This isn't formally correct grammar, but is it permitted in this context and are there any guidelines to this? General thoughts? With a hundred such side notes, it's certain that, as always, consistency is key, so if a truncated style is employed most of the time, it should become the case throughout.

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  • What does CMOS mean?
    – Ben
    Oct 23, 2023 at 18:42
  • @Ben, Chicago Manual of Style
    – EDL
    Oct 23, 2023 at 19:17

1 Answer 1

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  1. Different types of notes – footnotes, endnotes, sidenotes – do not follow different rules within one manualised style. If you want to follow the Chicago Manual of Style, then whatever the CMOS says of foot- and endnotes would apply to sidenotes as well.

  2. Sidenotes aren't conventional today. They are (today) mostly used in textbooks, manuals, and other "guiding" books to give brief summaries of sections to help orient the reader. These summaries often use an abbreviated style instead of full sentences.

    For example, in a manual for the treatment of a certain mental disorder, a paragraphs explains that structured interviews can be helpful during diagnosis. The sidenote says: "Structured Interviews". The other sidenotes in that chapter name other tools.

    These summarizing types of sidenotes serve a function that lies somewhere between a heading and a conclusion.

  3. What I would do in your case is create both variants (one with abbreviated and one with full sentences) and then get feedback from beta readers.

  4. Personally, I find your abbreviated examples unelegant. Instead of:

    Hugo de Vries (1848–1935), Dutch botanist, introduced concept of genes and mutation in evolution.

    I would write:

    Dutch botanist Hugo de Vries (1848–1935) introduced the concept of genes and mutation in evolution.

    That's only two characters more and reads much more easily and pleasantly. Similarly:

    The views of italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909) brought a shift to the scientific study of criminals. (4 characters longer)

    German physician and philosopher Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt (1832–1920) was a critical catalyst for the author's immersion in research on the senses. (7 characters longer)

    Wundt, by the way, wasn't a physician but a physiologist. He didn't practise as a health-care professional treating patients (except for a brief stint as a military doctor in 1870) but was a researcher studying nerves (for example in molluscs). He later expanded into experimental psychology and was a founding father, together with Fechner, of that academic discipline in the second half of the nineteenth century. Wundt is commonly described as "physiologist, psychologist and philosopher".

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  • Please comment on whether a dash or colon is advised here after entries like this, and whether what follows should start capitalized. "Thomists – Philosophical school that arose as a legacy of the work and thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. [Note added this edition.]" Oct 29, 2023 at 10:51
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    @Typothalamus That seems like a dictionary or encyclopedia kind of note, where a term is defined. Commonly the term would be set in bold and/or italics and followed by a comma: Thomists, philosophical school that ... You could actually do the same for the persons as well and set their names in italics or bold. But again, I'd create sample of the different options and look at them to decide which you like better. Don't make design decisions in your head.
    – Ben
    Oct 29, 2023 at 11:27

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