Michael Rowe

Trying to figure out better ways to help people learn.

Using Perplexity to find the source of a quote

I just used Perplexity to solve a problem that was doing my head in.

I wanted to find the source of a popular quote by an author named Shannon Hale. The problem is that the quote is reproduced on hundreds of sites, and all the sites I tried (using Google and DuckDuckGo) didn’t provide the source. This is an area where traditional search has let me down in the past.

After about 10 minutes of searching, I went to Perplexity:

Prompt: I’m looking for the source of the following quote by Shannon Hale: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” The problem is that every site I come across gives the quote without linking back to the source. Can you find the source?

The quote by Shannon Hale, “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles,” can be traced back to a post by Shannon Hale on X (formerly Twitter) dated August 27, 2015[1]. This post appears to be the original source of the quote, as it is directly attributed to Shannon Hale herself.

And it looks like this is correct. The link provided takes me directly to the tweet by Shannon.

This is a great example of something Perplexity does well i.e. when you need an accurate result, it’s a great option.

But I wanted to double check and see if the other popular models would also work.

And they don’t. Each gave me a long answer explaining why they couldn’t find the source (I’ve provided the opening excerpts below).

Claude: “Unfortunately, I was unable to find a definitive original source for that quote by Shannon Hale after searching online. The quote is widely attributed to her, but it does not seem to come from any of her published books or interviews that are publicly available.”

Gemini: “Unfortunately, it seems like you’ve hit a common problem with online quotes. While very inspiring, it appears the quote about shoveling sand into a box might not actually be directly from Shannon Hale.”

ChatGPT: “…despite its popularity and frequent citation, the precise source of this quote seems elusive and often appears without proper citation. It’s commonly cited in writing advice and motivational contexts but locating its original publication or interview is challenging.”

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