Got it. I agree that we should do it. Tangent coming.
The following is undoubtedly going to be an unhelpful and maybe even unwelcome opinion.
I’ve spent a long time deconstructing personal development writing trying to figure out why one piece gets a person to change and another piece doesn’t. This is maybe the most subtle element of trust — these articles are useless if they just present information. They need to connect with a person emotionally or a person will not follow through.
In coaching, we call this facilitation. But because I lean toward a small amount of cynicism, I usually just say the job of a coach is to manipulate you for your own benefit. We basically want this for all of our goals.
That’s true for articles too — I want people to trust that the articles are designed to help them.
And thankfully, coaching has a way to give the facilitation a level of trust: transparency. As long as the methods are and goals are shared and the client has opted into the process, then the coaching is trustworthy.
Our style guide is public for that reason — and it contains most of the behavior design. These are elements that aren’t about strictly reporting facts. As a small example, I generally ask our authors to frame an article around who you could become (positive) instead of fixing who you are (negative). Statistically, it seems like this is easier for readers to connect with.
Ok — back to what triggered this digression. In my experience the “work” that citations do in an article is to provide social proof. They increase a person’s confidence without necessarily adding honestly to their understanding.
Among the articles we already wrote, there’s one about the large number psychology papers that have recently failed to replicate. That means the results of a study were published, but then other psychologists have been unable to reproduce the same results.
So, to me, looked at rationally, the citations do very little to increase trustworthiness. The study may have misinterpreted their results and the author may have misinterpreted the study. But, the study results do lean in the direction of truth and then do a lot to increase the confidence of the reader that they should try the advice. I tend to think this is a good thing.
But I also see a lot of murkiness in these and it’s a topic that I’ll bring up with our advisory board.
If you take anything away from my tangent, I hope it’s just that we think really hard about these topics.