Digital Workflow Concepts for Dynamic Reference Works

Edward N. Zalta
Senior Research Scholar
Center for the Study of Language and Information
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305-4115


The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy project,, has two goals. The first is to design and implement the web-based administrative tools by which academic philosophers can collaboratively write and maintain a 'dynamic reference work'. The second is to produce an authoritative and comprehensive reference work devoted to philosophy that will remain useful to those in academia and the general public.

As a dynamic reference work, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

  1. is published in a revisable electronic medium,
  2. offers a comprehensive set of topics relating to a given discipline,
  3. gives the authors of the entries electronic access to the reference work's central web server, so that they can edit unpublished copies of their entries and keep their entries up to date,
  4. maintains quality by way of an internationally distinguished Board of Editors, the members of which referee the entries, and substantive modifications to entries, prior to publication on the web, and
  5. creates, and makes publicly available, archives of the entries on a quarterly basis (i.e., these contain fixed versions of the entries, which can be cited in scholarly publications).
A reference work based on our model constantly evolves and becomes responsive to new research. Such works offer a distinctive resource for both academic professionals and the members of the public.

By exploiting web technologies, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy organizes the profession of philosophy in a unique way. Grants from the NEH and NSF have allowed us to develop special web interfaces to facilitate collaboration among our subject editors and authors. The password-protected web interface for authors allows them to download our templates and style sheets, to upload their new entries into a private area of our web server, and to remotely edit copies of their entries which are stored in this private area. The password-protected web interface for subject editors allows them to:

  1. add important or new topics in philosophy to our database,
  2. commission authors to write entries,
  3. referee and comment on the private, unpublished entries and revisions which the authors upload,
  4. display, in their web browser, revised and original entries side-by-side, with the differences highlighted, and
  5. accept or reject entries and revisions.
The principal editor also has a special web interface, by which this collaborative process is administered and which tracks deadlines. These web interfaces were all demonstrated in the talk.

So, as new ideas in logic, ethics, philosophy of science, cognitive science, linguistics, etc., are published in books and journals of philosophy, we have a manageable system for keeping our reference work current. A dynamic reference work is consequently rather different from an electronic journal or preprint exchange. Academic electronic journals and preprint exchanges typically do not update the articles they publish. They do not aim at a comprehensive set of topics but are typically directed at a narrow audience of specialists. Moreover, electronic journals do not publish asynchronously, while preprint exchanges are not refereed. A dynamic reference work is therefore unique in the way it facilitates scholarly communication and the dissemination of new ideas.

This file was posted on 17 April 2001.
Please send your comments to Michael DiMaio, jr.

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