I am publishing historical letters. My research has uncovered some mistakes (e.g. name Jackson instead of Johnson). I'd like to retain the original text, but supply the correct information. I'd like to avoid footnotes, as I have endnotes, and using both is confusing to the reader. But endnotes for corrections are cumbersome. How can I preserve the original and include the correction in a way that's helpful and not intrusive to the reader?

  • 1
    I don't think footnotes and endnotes are confusing. Information needed quickly like Jackson or Johnson (or possibly an identifier of a person) are useful at the bottom of the page. (I've edited a book of letters and thus been through this.) Endnotes (sources) would be numbered; footnotes are asteriks etc. and "restart" with each page.
    – Xanne
    Oct 9 '17 at 21:59
  • Hello and welcome to EL&U. I haven't voted on your question, but the down-votes might be because footnotes and endnotes aren't really aspects of the English language (Academia.SE might be more relevant). However, the answers below do provide English conventions that address your question. You might want to try rewording your question so that it's relevant to English.SE, though please take care not to invalidate the answers.
    – Lawrence
    Oct 10 '17 at 8:53

Pop a [sic] in the quote! After that, then you can clarify right after within or without parentheses.


Bill Nye has opinions about many presidents like Andrew Jackson. This was evidenced like with when he said "Andrew Johnson [sic] was a terrible president."

Here's some more info if you'd like: http://data.grammarbook.com/blog/definitions/sic/


This can be done using sic and recte, or just sic as described by Wikipedia:

Alternatively, when both the original and the suggested correction are desired to be shown (as they often are in palaeography), one may give the actual form, followed by sic in brackets, followed by the corrected form, preceded by recte, in brackets. The word recte is a Latin adverb meaning "rightly".

An Iraqi battalion has consumed [sic] [recte assumed] control of the former American military base, and our forces are now about 40 minutes outside the city.

According to the Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music Style Sheet, there should be no punctuation, for example no colon, before the corrected word when using recte. Sometimes only sic and the correction are in brackets, becoming as in the last example "[sic assumed]" (i.e. recte is omitted).

Here is an example in the wild:

Cerithium pbeliscus [sic] [recte obeliscus] Brug
Rizal's Conchology

And here's another example with a different format:

Court of William [sic, recte John (Stafford)] archbishop of Canterbury, Humphrey [Stafford] duke of Buckingham and others, feoffees of John [de Mowbray] duke of Norfolk. Tues. after Michaelmas, 28 Hen. VI
The National Archives


I don't think using both footnotes and endnotes is confusing to the reader. In a collection of historical letters, you will probably have an endnote for each letter that provides its archival source and possibly other information, or possibly an endnote for the source of a group of letters. You would probably use numbers (1, 2, 3) for them, renumbering with each chapter or possibly not at all.

To avoid distractions in the flow of the writing, footnotes using symbols restarting on each page (*, etc.) are convenient for the reader. A reference (to use a modern example) to "Ted Kennedy" would have a footnote that says "Senator Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass." for example. A reference to the 1816 eruption of Mount Tambora that caused "A Year Without a Summer" would have a footnote "Tambora actually erupted the year before, in 1815."

If there's literary value to the writing, and especially if you are trying to reach a general audience, you don't want to put these details in the text.

Another alternative, used increasingly by publishers afraid of discouraging sales to the general public, is to avoid any numbers or symbols in the text, and instead to use a snippet of text (and the page number on which it appears) in endnotes. This approach is extremely hard on the reader, who doesn't know whether there's additional information provided or not, and has to scan an entire page for the text to which a note refers. David McCullough's best-selling biography John Adams uses this approach; he quotes quite a few letters, but only in part, and he has his own text in which he can provide information incorrect or incomplete in the correspondence.

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