Plugins for an academic group blog: Referencing & Footnotes

For reas­ons that will hope­fully become obvi­ous this sum­mer I’ve been think­ing what plu­gins would be use­ful for an aca­demic group blog on WordPress.

Referencing & Footnotes

In terms of integ­rat­ing ref­er­ences the three big pro­grams are EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero. It would be easy to get lost in an argu­ment about which of these is the best sys­tem. I don’t think that mat­ters. What is best for me is not neces­sar­ily best for you. Also two of these sys­tems are on the web, so they could be very dif­fer­ent in six months. What is best now might not be best soon. So the best solu­tion for integ­rat­ing with WordPress is to be able to handle as many sys­tems as possible.

That’s why I like Martin Fenner’s plu­gins BibTeX Importer and Link to Link. Everything out­puts Bibtex, so any selec­tion could be uploaded as Links in WordPress’s sys­tem with the importer. Then Link to Link makes it easy to pull out the links as you write. Mix in a good foot­note sys­tem and you and make good bib­li­o­graph­ies. The only draw­back is that WordPress’s sys­tem requires these links link to some­thing, like a DOI or URL. That’s not cer­tain for archae­olo­gical ref­er­ences so it’s not a per­fect solution.

Two other ways involve link­ing the bib­li­o­graphic sys­tem to WordPress. That requires that the sys­tem is online, so no EndNote. Zotpress integ­rates with Zotero and with upgrades over time it does is bet­ter and bet­ter. The latest ver­sion sits as a wid­get by the side of the edit area for insert­ing short­codes. In fact simply tag­ging the rel­ev­ant entries in Zotero with a hashtag like #blogentry20110517 gives you a single tag to look for and then you can type in one Zotpress short­code to com­pile the whole bibliography.

A sim­ilar trick can be done with the Mendeley plu­gin, though the inter­face is a little less friendly, while the short­codes are much friend­lier. It is tempt­ing to thing the choice of which plu­gin in to use is one or the other. You can’t have two identical bib­li­o­graph­ies in a post so you only use one? The blog­ger will only type one short­code in the post, but can choose which on if both plu­gins are installed. I think the plu­gins only use the pro­cessor if they’re invoked by the short­code so there’s no trouble using them both. I think with Zotero becom­ing unhooked from Firefox, the choice between Mendeley and Zotero will mInly be social. You’ll use what your per­sonal net­work uses.

An addi­tional Mendeley fea­ture is that you can also add a related research plu­gin. This works, even if the blog­ger uses Zotero for the bib­li­o­graphy in the post, if you remem­ber to add tags, so it seems like another use­ful add-on.

This leaves just a mat­ter of how to insert foot­notes. I like WP-Footnotes because it degrades grace­fully. You insert a foot­note with double brack­ets some­thing sim­ilar to but not exactly {{like this}}. When you use plain brack­ets it becomes a foot­note. ((Like this. Actually test­ing this shows that Apture will be a prob­lem if Footnotes are used. The reason is the anchor for the foot­note will be hid­den by the Apture bar with search etc. So too will the back link. It’s prob­ably a choice between foot­notes and Apture. If an aca­demic blog uses foot­notes reg­u­larly I can see Apture being a miss.)) Apart from being simple, if you deac­tiv­ate it, then all your older posts don’t auto­mat­ic­ally look unread­able. It’s lim­ited in what it does, but what it does it does extremely well. But I won­der if my reluct­ance to use short­codes in the past means I might be over­look­ing Footnotes for WordPress. One ques­tion is why do you need foot­notes on a blog?

Footnotes make sense in print by mov­ing dis­cre­tion­ary text out of the way. They make sense for ref­er­ences, though for plain text using foot­notes is often a sign you’ve writ­ten some­thing badly. Endnotes make sense on paper in that they’re easier to type­set than foot­notes. But blogs are not on paper. References could be dir­ectly hyper­linked. I think one reason this has never taken off in human­it­ies aca­demic blogs is partly the expect­a­tion of what text should look like and partly because if a source isn’t online it’s not obvi­ous what the link should link to. Even so, do we really need to scroll down for notes in elec­tronic texts? Footnotes for WordPress takes advant­age of blog­ging by includ­ing an option for hov­er­ing foot­notes. I used to think float­ing notes or tool­tips were gim­micks. If mak­ing them becomes as simple as typ­ing [ref]footnote here.[/ref] then maybe it’s time to rethink what it is you want foot­notes to do. I think there’s still a need for col­lated ref­er­ences at the end of an elec­tronic text, as it still serves a use­ful Further Reading func­tion after fin­ish­ing read­ing a text. Adding float­ing notes won’t remove that list, but it will make those same notes and ref­er­ences more accessible.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

2 Responses

  1. I think (I would) that foot­notes are essen­tially some­thing that doesn’t belong in the main argu­ment, but is still import­ant to know. Not everything is online and not everything can be hyper­linked, so some stuff may have to go into foot­notes (or brack­eted ref­er­ences á la MLA) but that’s not as import­ant as the abil­ity to check why I might have said some­thing, one way or another. They don’t have to be a scroll away, they can be hyper­linked. I mean, I cer­tainly agree that more can be done in an online envir­on­ment but I don’t think that dis­cred­its imit­a­tions of the clas­sic style in HTML, even if not linked. I think you need foot­notes on a blog as long as a blog is sup­posed to be able to con­tain scholarship.

  1. April 27, 2011

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