From several web usability studies conducted in the late
90s, Jakob Nielsen and John Morkes (1998) concluded that substantial differences
exist between reading from the screen and reading print from a page; hypertext
authors attuned to these differences can take steps to enhance the reading
experience. For example, Nielson and Morkes found that screen reading is
slower than page reading; readers prefer to scan rather than read word
for word from the screen; and readers prefer viewing short segments of
text rather than scrolling through pages of text. A web-writing convention
that has emerged from these reading analyses involves the process of “chunking” or
separating content into small sections or nodes, which according to Nielsen,
Morkes and others, provides a more reader-friendly experience within this
medium. Specifically, hypertext scholars generally agree that nodes should
be “bite-size chunks” of information focused on one main topic
and neatly contextualized. Troffer (2000) observed that “chunking” text
breaks up a long strand, allows for more white space, and therefore contributes
to an easier screen reading experience.
The strategy of “chunking” content into bits of self-contained
information or arguments appears to conflict with the typical writing strategies
of scholarly research arguments, which are often comprised of dense paragraphs
connected by transitional topic sentences to create coherence throughout
the text. One way of maintaining a sense of coherence within a web-based
text is to contextualize the main arguments within each node. Snyder (1997)
asserted that separate units of text need to be understandable when read
alone, need to make sense when read out of order, and need to have some sense
of belonging to the greater context and framework of the piece itself (p.
11). Carter (1997) agreed that “the chunk is its own kind of writing—it
must be self-contained, and it must also be capable of merging stylistically
with other nodes that may appear before or after in a given reading” (p.
46). Question 9 in Category B of the assessment tool is designed to evaluate
the extent to which webtexts follow an effective node strategy according
to the standards outlined above.
Question 9: Node strategy
a) Chunked content
- The text within the webtext is divided into discrete chunks of information
within separate nodes.
- The text within the webtext is divided into larger sections of information
in which readers are required to scroll through a majority of the nodes.
- The text within the webtext appears in one long (linear) node.
b) Self-contained content
- Content within a majority of the nodes is self-contained and contextualized;
nodes can be read individually and in almost any order.
- Content within a majority of the nodes relies on necessary information
and transitions from previous nodes.