I’ve been having an interesting discussion with people involved in implementing citation processing in Zotero. This is the functionality that allows one to add a citation to your Word or OOo Writer document, and have it and the bibliography automatically generated.
They’ve stumbled on a rather large conceptual and practical stumbling block: how to implement note-based citations. If a user adds a citation to the document and it is automatically rendered as a footnote, is that object then a citation in a footnote, or a citation that is simply rendered as a footnote?
Allow me to explain with some use cases:
A user starts a new research paper. They select a footnote-based citation style. They add citations to the document, and each of them is automatically rendered as a footnote.
They then realize they need to use a different citation style, and choose instead an APA in-text author-date style. The footnoted citations are then automatically moved into the text in the proper form.
Complex Case 1
Users wants to add a footnote to the document and include one or more citation references in it. They add the footnote, and then add both their commentary and the related citations. If they switch to a non-note-based citation style, this footnote remains a footnote; only the citation rendering changes.
Complex Case 2
User wishes to add commentary about the citations in the note to that note (as opposed to in the body text). User clicks in the body of the footnote and begins typing. If they switch to a non-note-based citation style, this footnote also remains a footnote.
Citations can occur either in the main body text, or in notes. Whatever the citation style, (rendering of) citations in notes are different than body text citations, because they occur in the context of note-based commentary. Their position in the note is thus not an artifact of the citation style, but rather fundamental to the content. Both the content of that note and its citations will remain in the note regardless.
There is no disagreement about the basic case. We all agree citations should be automatically footnoted in note-based citation styles. This is not some theoretical problem. Some fields use both note-based and in-text author-date styles, and absent automation, users wishing to switch from one to the other would have to manually move every single citation in and out of their notes, a tedious process. We all agree it’s a major shortcoming of existing applications (like Endnote) that they do not manage this issue for their users.
Where we diverge is on implementation details highlighted in the complex cases.
Complex Case 1 illustrates the clear distinction between the two: it is a citation within a footnote, rather than a style-dependent footnoted citation.
Complex Case 2, however, demonstrates a likely case where the user in essence might want to convert a footnoted citation into the first form.
So two different issues of concern to me:
First, what should the user experience be here when a user would like to add commentary to citations?
Forget about footnotes. Consider short comments in in-text citations? I want to do (Doe, 1999; see also Smith, 2000, chapter 2). Can I do this? If so, how? If I do, how do I select the citation source?
Note: my questions above do not necessarily presume any answers. I am asking, though, because users sometimes do use notes in in-text citations.
Second, how should this be encoded in document formats (specifically ODF and OOXML) such that users can be confident of some acceptable level of interoperability in citations across different applications?
The debate we’ve been having touches on both dimensions of the question, but a bit more on the latter. In short, should a citation field in ODF or OOXML be allowed to contain a footnote or endnote, or must the citation always be wrapped in the note?
Allow me to illustrate using the new text:meta-field from the ODF metadata work. Let’s imagine a multi-reference citation with an author-date style. It might be done like so:
So we have a nested field. These fields are then hooked up (via a binding that uses the xml:id) to some RDF/XML in the file package.
To a user, this would display like:
(Doe, 1999; Smith, 2000)
They could individually select the references, which would be read-only.
So now: what happens if the user changes to a note-based style?
My argument is that because the footnote/endnote rendering is only an artifact of the processing, and does not reflect a user’s explicit choice, the XML encoding should reflect this by including the footnote within the outer field; something like:
Doe, 1999, Some Title, New York:ABC Books.
Smith, 2000, Some Other Title, London:XYZ Books.
The only time a citation should be contained within a note is when a user explicitly chooses to do so.
So the questions are, I suppose:
- Does this make sense from a user-experience and document-encoding perspective?
- Can this be implemented such that we canâ€”at least some point in the not-distant futureâ€”have interoperability across different editing and bibliographic applications?
To be more concrete, when MS adds support for note-based citations, how will they encode them in OOXML? When OOo developers add support for the new metadata field and citations, how will they do it?
[update: fixed some minor typos]