A plug. Photo by Pulpolux!!! CC BY-NC

Plugins for an academic group blog: Referencing & Footnotes

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

Referencing & Footnotes

A plug. Photo by Pulpolux!!! CC BY-NC
Photo by Pulpolux!!! CC BY-NC

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.

Photo by Pulpolux!!! with a Creative Commons Licence BY-NC.

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Alun Salt

Alun Salt is an ancient historian / archaeologist based in the University of Leicester, UK. His PhD thesis was an archaeoastronomical analysis of Greek temple alignments in Sicily. He also has an MPhil in World Archaeology. His research interests include ancient technology, cosmology and colonisation processes. He is currently dividing his time between a few part-time jobs in the university and at the Annals of Botany.