I write my thesis with classic thesis and I am about to use the marginpar code in order to have margin notes. I know that this way of writing is used par Edward Tufte in his tufte class and I wondered if anyone knew if E. Tufte had justified his choice to use that kind of notes. Is there any text where he wrote about it ?

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    If it looks good, it is justified. The problem is whether it looks good or not. I still couldn't get used to margin writings. I think they are disruptive but of course what do I know compared to Tufte. – percusse Sep 13 '14 at 15:59
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    FWIW, not everyone agrees that everything Tufte does is very good by definition. I agree with @percusse that long interpolations are disruptive as margin notes, and, maybe even as footnotes. These days, I'm tending towards favouring end notes. – Brent.Longborough Sep 13 '14 at 17:18

Well I'm pretty sure Edward Tufte justifies the use of side notes in his work, but I honestly can't tell you which of his books you should consult to find the answer because I have not read yet.

About the justification of the side notes, as you should know, the classicthesis class is a homage of the book The elements of typographic style by Robert Bringhurst, so Andrè Miede tries to emulate the look of the book with the class. Hence also use side notes, for which in the book Bringhurst himself says the following:

If notes are used for subordinate details, it is right that they be set in a smaller size than the main text. But the academic habit of relegating notes to the foot of the page or the end of the book is a mirror of Victoria social and domestic practice, in which the kitchen was kept out of sight and the servants were kept below stairs. If the notes are permitted to move around in the margins (as they were in Renaissance books) they can be present where needed and at the same time enrich the life of the page.

Footnotes are the very emblem of fussiness, but they have their uses. If there are short and infrequent, they can be made economical of space, easy to find when wanted and, when not wanted, easy to ignore. Long footnotes are inevitably a distraction: tedious to read and wearying to look at. Footnotes that extend to a second page (as some long footnotes are bound to do) are an abject failure of design.

Endnotes can be just as economical of space, less trouble to design and less expensive to set, and they can comfortably run to any length. They also leave the text page clean except for a peppering of superscripts. They do, however, require the serious reader to use two bookmarks and to read with both hands as well as both eyes, swapping back and forth between the popular and the persnickety parts of the text.

Sidenotes give more life and variety to the page and are the easiest of all to find and read. If carefully designed, they need not enlarge either the page or the cost of printing it.

In my opinion, the margin notes are usually functional, showing you the information at the right time and not too distracting to reading, at least not as much as a footnote. Here I disagree with percusse and Brent.Longborough. Given the fact that a note is just that, a brief mention is outside the idea developed in the main text but is worth mentioning. However sometimes the notes give rise to a simultaneous development of divergent ideas and main text, that in my view is not just a failure of design but a lack of clarity from the author also.

While the use of long notes is legitimate, when they are so, I think it is more convenient to use footnotes, as though distracted momentarily reading the main text, they are much less distracting than endnotes, I hate them. It is horrible to be reading a good text and then having to flip through the end of the book for the note or notes to which reference is made. Often you have to re-read the main text to resume the thread of the idea. If the volume is very large and unwieldy they are hell.

Formerly many printers and typesetters loved endnotes, as they were much easier to typeset than margin notes or foot notes. But in the twenty-first century with all the technology we have, the endnotes lack that old justification. They are more synonymous with laziness by the publisher or the author (who is often its own typographer and designer), and disrespectful for the reader.

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    @domi -- You are unlikely to find any discussion from that time period. The reason is that, pace Bringhurst, medieval manuscripts and early printed books (not just incunablua) used all the space around the main text. The goal was to be economical of space above all. The best examples of this are glossed versions of legal texts and the Bible. There are countless examples. Some prettier than others, it is true, but that is a function of the prospective audience, not the brainchild of some Renaissance Bringhurst. (Incidentally, +1 for pointing out the use of long footnotes can be appropriate.) – jon Sep 13 '14 at 20:02
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    @dormi Well I cited that book for being a very good manual on the subject, because in that section gives you a functional and historical explantion of the use of different types of notes. In addition, in the bibliography Bringhurst cites appear two Tufte's books, so it's not hard to guess that the design of his own book took into account not only the Renaissance style, but also the teachings of Edward Tufte. And finally I cited it because the class you use is based on the visual layout of that manual. Good look with that searching. – Aradnix Sep 13 '14 at 20:02
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    @domi -- In a different context, I posted this answer, which has an example of a glossed version of Gratian's Decretum. It is a pretty deluxe printing.... – jon Sep 13 '14 at 20:07
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    That's a nice argument but still I can't convince myself that marginpars are useful. On one hand if it is really necessary and worth mentioning you take it in to the main body of the text (em-dashes etc. since we expect it to be short) on the other hand I have to be distracted since I can't have a choice of skipping that detail. So as @Brent noted, end notes are much more functional than these scribbles for offering a choice to the reader. Another problem is that even a page doesn't have a margin note, the space should be left occupied because it would disrupt the overall page size. – percusse Sep 14 '14 at 9:51
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    So I have to stick to the argument that margin notes are ugly for my own taste and hardly ever contributes to the content. Footnotes for citations and very short indications are ok for me but more than three becomes like ok I need to first find where these footnotes are cited. – percusse Sep 14 '14 at 9:54

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