The Last Final

Hypertext can be a very useful tool for online readers. It can help avoid drowning readers in large passages of text and hook interested readers to visit different sections. While there is an overall order to the text, it can read much like a choose-your-path story. Hypertext has the ability to allow readers to read the content out of order and usually still understand the subject matter. It can be a very useful tool for literary and educational texts.

Of course, such a text format can be both useful and frustrating at once.

Hypertext is very different compared to reading a book. Books follow a linear format. Arguments are created step-by-step to ensure that the reader understands all the qualifying points. It has a narrowed focus toward its conclusion, avoiding side paths that wind to dead ends. Every piece has a conclusion and is a complete argument in and of itself. You can see the full span of the material you are reading and can flip ahead to see how much you have left at any given time.

That cannot be done with hypertext usually. Hypertext leaves room to wander around. Not every piece is a complete argument, as they make use of linked pages to carry it on to other pages. Where a book compels you to read with long passages of text, a hyperlink can leave readers with time to stop and reflect on what they've just read between linked pages. Points are linked within the page, removing the need for a separate conclusion on each page because the argument there is not usually complete. This "tangle" of links can create a kind of familiarity with the work as you click along.

If one is making an argument via hypertext, it requires the dedication from the reader to go through all of the connected articles to understand the full scope of the argument. Most readers want to see the full text and this can prove tedious without a means to mark the paths you've taken, causing the reader to grow disoriented and lost. Some hypertexts make use of highlighting the hyperlinks you've visited in the conclusion to make it easy to go back and read what you may have missed during your first trip through. Others keep a running list of the text's hyperlinks visible on the sidebar at all times for the reader to refer to. These can make it easier to keep readers interested and reduce the anxiety built up in some readers at the prospect of missing key information during the process of clicking and then back spacing over and over between pages. Of course, this can also spoil the surprise for the contents of pages not clicked yet.

The best way to keep a reader reading is by ensuring that the crucial points of your argument are visited, no matter what is clicked. Making a map of your main points and how they connect can help. This can assist in organization and keeping the readers oriented. If key components to your argument are missed, the argument falls apart and you have readers getting lost and frustrated. This kind of pyramid-style structure mapping may prove difficult for some readers but as a whole, it makes creation of the text easier to manage and allows predetermined paths to be set correctly. Whether you make this map accessible to readers or not can really depend on the interconnectivity of your argument's pages.

Another thing that can make hypertext difficult to use is if the writer overuses hypertext. This can take the form of linking to offsite articles or linking to information that only leads the reader to a dead end that is irrelevant to the argument at hand. These detours, while useful if one decides to use examples or make points away from the main argument, can easily cause a reader to lose track of the material they've read.

Too many links on a page may distract the reader, who already has to slow their reading to attend to the other linked materials. At best, the hyperlinks can help enrich the reader's understanding of the material, which is always good for an argument. At worst, the hyperlinks could end up being ignored by the reader, which can rob them of valuable information about the argument that they are being presented with. Try to minimize the number of unnecessary links on a page to avoid getting your reader lost in an overlapping tangle of paths. Disorienting and confusing the reader can quickly drive some away before long.

The readers' various reading styles can also make using hypertext difficult. Hypertext creates a sense of freedom of movement. You can go where you like and click whatever links you want because you can always get back to the beginning by pressing the home link. You can click through quickly to get a sense of the material amount and then go back to read through it all. Hypertext lacks the paratext that helps orient and prepare readers for the material, so it has to make a lasting impression with its introductory page to lure readers into going further and keep them going with hooking links.

Adding to that point is the scenario of readers not arriving at the introductory page at all. These drop-ins can appear from search engines and drop onto any page. Drop-ins can ruin predetermined paths and set starting points in a hypertext. This might not be an issue for a hypertext intent on delivering information, but it is for texts with meaning extended over several linked pages. In order to keep these readers reading, one must make use of navigational devices to seduce them into doing more than gathering tidbits from the current page and then leaving.

Hypertext works much like a garden path. You have the freedom to go where you like, but you also run the risk of getting lost. A map can help but you don't always get one. You'll probably miss landmarks or interesting views the first time through. It may take several trips over the course of many days to get through it all. Some may not bother to complete the full journey at all, too frustrated. Readers can walk away at any point, whether to take a break or to never return. This is the risk that hypertext takes with its format.

Hypertext can be very useful for literary and educational texts. Not all readers will find them helpful, but the variety of uses that a hypertext holds on the internet all but promises their extended use in the future. I've certainly enjoyed the ones we've implemented this semester.
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