Node strategy

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

b) Self-contained content