On the Path to Theory: Exploratory and Constructive Hypertexts

        Hypertext author/theorist Michael Joyce (1988) characterizes hypertexts as either "exploratory hypertexts" or "constructive hypertexts" (p. 11). Exploratory hypertexts serve as navigational devices that assist the user in finding and collating information, "facilitating the exploration of an information space" (McDaid, 1991, p. 214). Despite the fact that the reader constructs his or her own reading by choosing what information sources to access, he or she remains in what John McDaid calls "'audience mode', and the jobs of reader and of author remain separate and different" (214). In constructive hypertexts, the reader can actively link between and among texts rather than merely following predetermined links, thus creating new hypertexts. As Joyce describes them,

Constructive hypertexts . . . require a capability to act: to create, to change, and to recover particular encounters within the developing body of knowledge. . . . These encounters, like those in exploratory hypertexts, are maintained as versions, i.e., trails, paths, webs, notebooks, etc.; but they are versions of what they are becoming, a structure for what does not yet exist. (1988, p. 11).

        While exploratory hypertexts can be useful for finding information, the paths which the reader follows are explicitly determined by the author and the reader cannot create new links or forge new paths through the texts being read; in this sense, exploratory hypertexts reproduce the hierarchical power structure (author over reader) promoted by traditional print literacy while simultaneously undermining the constraints of linearity found in traditional print literacy. In contrast, constructive hypertexts are left open; that is, readers may connect to what is already written and comment upon it, whereas strictly exploratory hypertexts close off all avenues but the ones already inscribed. I advocate constructive hypertexts in the writing class because they make possible a wider range of collaborative and dialogue-facilitating writing activities.

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