Thursday, January 20, 2011

References are actually good

I realized in the last weeks that I'm guilty of not citing enough references while writing here and at Web Builder Zone. References are something that cannot be avoided in academic work, where they are called citations.

For example, in my slides on image manipulation detection, references look like this:
Main Hany Farid, A Survey of Image Forgery Detection (2009), in: IEEE Signal Processing Magazine, 2:26(16-25)
Valentina Conotter, Giulia Boato and Hany Farid, Detecting Photo Manipulation on Signs and Billboards, in: International Conference on Image Processing, Hong Kong, 2010
R. Hartley and A. Zisserman, Multiple View Geometry in Computer Vision, Cambridge University Press, 2004

What references are
References are simply a list of academic papers (good), books (also good) or web pages (not good in academia, but often the only viable reference on the web). The reader interested in learning more, or in verifying that you're not scamming him, will follow the references. It's like saying: this isn't something I dreamed last night after after several beers; there are other sources which propose the same concept, and they are generally trusted by the community.

Yet, I don't see many references in blog posts and articles (if you leave out the original source, for republished articles.) And I'm the first to plead guilty for this. I know many posts present an opinion, and not a scientific research, but while explaining a pattern or a methodology citing independent sources would actually help our case.

The worst thing a technical writer can think of is that there is no added value in posts that link similar articles. Actually, your argument is stronger when backed by someone else, even if it loses a bit of originality. This is how you add value to something already written on another web page.

  • You make an additional explanation of the topic from your point of view, and moreover with your background, which is different from everyone else. I know what my colleague, a front-end developer, thinks of Ajax. Now what do you think, as a graphic designer, a PHP coder or a or salesman?
  • You port the example to other tecnologies and fields. Some of the things I say to PHP developers have been well-known from Java programmers for years.
  • All ideas are made from other ideas*, so even the most original articles build on previous work.

Myths of Innovation

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