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I am currently writing my thesis. At times, I find it may be helpful to add additional context to a quotation or I may want to include an additional, interesting fact that complements the main body of the text whilst not being directly pertinent to the point at hand.

For example, I'm quoting "God does not play dice" and want to add a footnote regarding the discrepancy between the popular interpretation of what Einstein meant by god and his "cosmic religion". It's not relevant to the academic point I'm making with regards to quantum physics but it is interesting and pertinent to how the reader may interpret the connotations of the quotation.

Is it acceptable to include things like this in the footnotes or should I leave them out entirely?

  • Is it a thesis in physics or in philosophy / theology? – Federico Poloni Nov 29 '19 at 16:13
  • Electrical engineering, so as I said, not particularly relevant academically but interesting nonetheless. If it were a theology thesis that would be relevant enough to discuss in the body. This is just an example, there are multiple other instances I could think of. – Persistence Nov 29 '19 at 16:20
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    I think your advisor will have more relevant advice than anyone here. They will know your committee to some extent and can predict the likely effect. I, personally, wouldn't have a problem with it, but others might. But I'd advise against anything that would seem frivolous. – Buffy Nov 29 '19 at 16:30
  • If it's something you do once or twice I think you should be fine. Adding every clever quip that pops into your head during the writing process is distracting and annoying. But yes, that's what advisors are for. – Spark Nov 29 '19 at 17:03
  • Foot note or end note? I like the citations as end notes and if absolutely required a digression as a foot note. Also, it's only my personal bias. But I find that most of the time when an author has these digressions outside the text it looks like they had ideas after first draft and were too lazy to integrate them. Or they got comments from reviewers and ditto. That is, to me, such digressions look lazy and sloppy. But it's only my own personal bias. – puppetsock Nov 29 '19 at 17:37
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While I’m a big believer in “ask your adviser” about many questions, it’s useful to remember (and to remind yourself occasionally) that this is your thesis. You are the author. With that status comes the freedom (in a technical sense, at least) to write literally whatever you want in the thesis. That’s what it means to be the author of something.

So yes, you don’t want to annoy your adviser and other readers of your thesis too much, but remember: it is your thesis. If it makes you happy to discuss Einstein’s metaphysical beliefs (or lack thereof), there’s no need to overthink the issue. You worked very hard for several years to come up with interesting things to say, the least that people can do to respect that monumental effort is to humor you by putting up with a few not-very-relevant side remarks.

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  • I agree. Being an independent researcher also means developing ones own individual style and not merely trying to become a copy of the advisor. – Sebastian Bechtel Nov 30 '19 at 15:13
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Within reason, it's fine. And probably should be done more than it is. Think of these as paprika though. Don't overspice the goulash!

Use endnote style citations for references and actual footnotes (on that page) for explanations, asides, etc.* If you have a particularly long digression, put it in an appendix (for example a mathematical exercise or "complicated homework problem" suggested by the work, but not really core to the thesis).

*But watch your margins (thesis bane). Also, if the amount of endnotes causes an issue with your word processing program, consider to group them by chapter. [Edited answer digression into a footnote, couldn't help myself. ;-)]

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