Comments and Footnotes

by Jeff Langr

October 31, 2007

Will I ever stop railing on about comments? I don’t think so. As long as it’s possible to write code in a less than clear manner, people will always be compelled to explain their coding deficiencies. And I will always be compelled to resist.

As a writer, I try to ensure that the main text in a book or article is clear to the reader. Every rare once in a while (perhaps a couple dozen times in a book), I feel compelled to write extra information, something that supplements the text. I do so in the form of a footnote. The footnote provides non-essential information. It’s something that might help add some insights to what I just wrote, perhaps, or a humorous but otherwise distracting note.

My editors would never let me use footnotes to re-explain a passage of text. A coder attempting to salvage bad code with comments is like me adding footnotes to try and explain poorly written text. If the mainline text didn’t explain it well, why should a footnote explain it any better?

Footnotes and comments are ultimately a distraction. Ever try to read a book with footnotes on almost every page (and I’m not talking citations or references)? You may as well be reading two books, in some cases. As writers, we owe it to our readers write more clearly and to minimize these distractions.


Anonymous November 5, 2007 at 12:19pm

Excellent analogy Jeff.

Today I was asked what I think about assertThat for jUnit4 framework. It brings nothing more than a little bit more verbosity for tests, but won’t help people write better tests. Those , whom tests are of a poor readability and quality will remain the same with a new constructions, too.

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Jeff Langr

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Jeff Langr has been building software for 40 years and writing about it heavily for 20. You can find out more about Jeff, learn from the many helpful articles and books he's written, or read one of his 1000+ combined blog (including Agile in a Flash) and public posts.