Annotations are an easy way to Show Your Work

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Journalists are increasingly being asked to show their work. Politifact does it like this. This is great! The more citation of sources, the better. If I want to check those sources, though, I often wind up spending a lot of time searching with cited articles to find passages cited implicitly but not explicitly. If those passages are marked using annotations, the method I’ll describe here can streamline the reader’s experience.

In A Hypothesis-powered Toolkit for Fact Checkers I described a toolkit that supported the original incarnation of the Digital Polarization Project. More recently I’ve unbundled the key ingredients of that toolkit and made them separately available for reuse. The ingredient I’ll discuss here, HypothesisFootnotes, is illustrated in this short clip from a 10-minute screencast that documents the original toolkit. Here’s the upshot: Given a web page that contains Hypothesis direct links, you can include a script that pulls the cited material into the page as footnotes, and connects the direct links in the page to associated footnotes at the bottom of the page.

The example here builds on another demonstration in which I showed how to improve Wikipedia citations with direct links. There I showed that a Wikipedia citation need not only point to the top of a source web page. If the citation refers specifically to a passage within the source page, it can use a direct link to refer the reader directly to that passage.

Here’s an example that’s currently live in Wikipedia:

It looks like any other source link in Wikipedia. But here’s where it goes:

Not every source link warrants this treatment. When a citation refers to a specific context in a source, though, it’s really helpful to send the reader directly to that context. But it can be time-consuming to follow a set of direct links to see cited passages in context. Why not collapse them into the article from which they are cited? That’s what HypothesisFootnotes does. The scattered contexts defined by a set of Hypothesis direct links are assembled into a package of footnotes within the article. Readers can still visit those contexts, of course, but since time is short and attention is scarce, it’s helpful to collapse them into an included summary.

This technique will work in any content management system. If you have a page that cites sources using direct links, you can use the HyothesisFootnotes script to bring the targets of those direct links into the page.

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