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A supplemental question – appendix or annex?

August 3, 2011

What is the difference between an ‘appendix’ and an ‘annex’?  This is a common question in report writing courses. If you look for a definitive explanation the result is confusion: there are as many answers as there are ‘authorities’.

A standard answer?

When researching style guides I noted that in one style guide for authors who write engineering standards1 that an appendix is ‘informative’, whereas an annex is ‘normative’.  That is, an appendix provides additional, non-obligatory information, whereas the information in the annex contributes to the standard (set of rules, obligations) to be followed. Essentially there is a ‘must have’ (annex) and a ‘nice to have’ (appendix) division between the two.

Yet one of the official international technical writing guides2 has an ‘Annex A (informative Bibliography)’. It refers to the annex as ‘informative’, rather than ‘normative’; and, generally, good practice places a bibliography in the main body of a document, rather than in an appendix, or an annex.  So even the rigorous and painstaking instructions for ‘standards’, and standards for writing standards, vary in their usage. Another body, The World Trade Organization3, is typical of thosethat use annexes as legal amendments to agreements; or have appendixes, which in turn have annexes, that summarise the commitments of the parties.

Stand-alone or authorship?

Some argue that the defining quality of an annex is that it is stand-alone. But so are many appendices. Others argue that the authorship separates the two: an appendix is written by the author of the main document, and an annex is written by someone else. Maybe it’s a matter of length: short – an addendum; longer – an annex; longest – an appendix. Or is it another way round? Even the spelling varies, ‘appendices’ (Oxford Style Manual), ‘appendixes’ for many dictionaries, hard copy and online. For the Oxford Guide to Style, ‘appendix’ and ‘annexe’ are interchangeable.

Specific practice

Is this distinction important? It must be for it to be made. This is apart from the way appendices are frequently abused, as dumping grounds for irrelevant information when the author is in ‘kitchen-sink’ mode (I’ll add this – just in case). I’ve seen reports where the appendices are simply an accumulation of earlier reports, regardless of relevance.

Both words indicate a supplement to the information in the main body of a document or a book. Beyond that it seems the answer is based on very specific practice. This is yet another case of making sure you have an opinion that everyone involved agrees with; or, at least, the guidance of a company style guide.

1. Style Manual for Standards and Other Publications of JEDEC

2. International Standard ISO 690-2, ‘Information and documentation — Bibliographic references — Part 2: Electronic documents or parts thereof’

3. World Trade Organization, legal texts.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 5, 2011 17:04

    Very erudite stuff! Sometimes I have seen an annexe (annex is the US spelling according to the Collins Concise Dictionary) brought into play simply because the writer wanted to subdivide an appendix into various parts and called them annexes. It seemed fair enough to me. They are words that mean different things depending on custom and practice in your organisation as you say – rather like summary and abstract. Ah, there’s another topic for a blog!

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