WeRelate:Suggestions/Ref Tag Improvement



The ref tag is the tool used to create footnotes. It should be improved, or replaced with an alternative, to better integrate and manage WeRelate's library of sources.

  1. If the name parameter is used, the text is ignored. This is too limited. It is frequently desirable to create footnotes with "pinpoint sourcing" or added explanatory material, in addition to referring to a source. This is basic footnote functionality that is missing from the current ref tag.
  2. It would be nice if the ref tag could create footnotes that were able to leverage the collection of source citations that are stored on WeRelate's source pages.

Proposal to Provide Useful Footnotes

If the name parameter is missing, the text between <ref> and </ref> should create a footnote using that text. That is the current behavior so no change needed.

If the name parameter is used, the text is ignored. This should change. The footnote should link to the source as it does now, but in addition, if text is provided, it should be used as the text of the footnote.

The current workaround to this situation is to combine the ref tag with the #S1 notation, e.g.,

<ref>[[#S1|GMB]] P. 201</ref>

However, this creates a footnote without adding any link to S1 to show that S1 was referenced, losing some of the benefit (some might argue, the primary benefit) of the ref tag.

One approach might be for an entry like

<ref name="S1">P. 201</ref>

to create a footnote similar to

  ↑  S1. P. 201

In this example, the up-arrow points to the spot in the text where the footnote's superscript occurs. "S1" represents some kind of link pointing to source citation 1. Note that source 1 should also have an up-arrow added to it to point to this footnote to maintain an accurate record of all references to source 1, so it won't be deleted while there are still dependent footnotes referencing it.

(Another approach might be to have every use of [[#S1]] add an up-arrow to source 1 reflecting that it has been referenced.)

Proposal to Use Stored Citations

The current description of using the ref tag, for references other than cited sources, requires manually embedding citations as footnote text. A typical example would be

<ref>Pioneers of Massachusetts, p. 266</ref>

This has, in practice, resulted in incomplete and non-standard citations even when used by good recordkeepers, and virtually unusable and ambiguous citations when done carelessly.

This behavior (illustrated on the wikipedia pages for the ref tag) should be discouraged. One alternative would be to create a full-fledged source citations, and separately creating footnotes to that source using the ref tag in one of the manners described above. Alternately, the ref tag could be enhanced to leverage the source citations stored on the Source pages in a more automatic manner.

One approach would be if the name parameter could hold the title of a source page, e.g.,

<ref name="Source:Wheeler, Albert Gallatin. Genealogical and Encyclopedic History of the Wheeler Family in America">Page 200 gives the wrong wife for John Wheeler, and this error has been copied by many subsequent researchers.</ref>

This could create a footnote that starts with the full citation of the source that is stored on the Source page, and appends the footnote text, if any, i.e.,
  ↑  Wheeler, Albert Gallatin. The Genealogical and Encyclopedic History of the Wheeler family in America. (American College of Genealogy , 1914). Page 200 gives the wrong wife for John Wheeler, and this error has been copied by many subsequent researchers.

(Is there some variant of transclusion that could grab just the source citations off the Source page? There may be alternate approaches to this, if so.)

Proposal for Listing Sources and Footnotes

There may be some value in considering whether all references to a source should be listed together in a group. Because of the bi-directional links from reference to footnote and back, it may not be necessary to list footnotes strictly in the order they appear in the narrative. It may become more useful to present an organization like the following:

  ↑  source citation 1
  ↑  text of citation
  ↑  footnote 1
  ↑  footnote 8
  ↑  source citation 2
  ↑  footnote 5
  ↑  source citation 3
  ↑  text of citation
  ↑  note or sourceless footnote

The up arrows on the source citations would point to textless footnotes (i.e., <ref name="S1"/>), while the other up-arrows would point to where the reference occurred.