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A Linear-Based Model For Understanding Hypertextual Structure

Here's how I explain hypertextuality to my fellow undergrads, many of whom have trouble grasping the concept intuitively. I'd be interested in receiving feedback on this model, in order to refine/reevaluate it; comments can be sent to my mailbox.

Imagine you're writing a short paper, and you're using expository footnotes. You find, however, that you want to be able to address more fully the issues which are raised in those footnotes, so you develop a few of them into essays. Because each essay now deals with a different aspect of what on a larger scale is the same issue, you find yourself now using parts (or all) of some essays as "footnotes" for parts (or all) of others. Functionally, this means you offer the reader opportunities to branch off from any one essay at points within the text where another essay elaborates upon, or brings new light to, the current thread of the author's thoughts (and the readers' thoughts, as anticipated by the author; readers are more empowered to determine structure in hypertext than in most traditional linear forms, and "authorship" becomes a more slippery term in hypertext writing). As you approach the point where it becomes harder and harder to tell which was the "original" source essay and which was the footnote, you are moving towards full hypertextuality.

One moment which marks the crossover into a primarily hypertextual mode of text creation (as opposed to linear) is when you find it neccessary to provide a "map" of the essay for reader navigation. At this point, it is no longer easy (and sometimes not even possible) for us, as readers, to navigate the text on our own. Our culturally reinforced and school-taught linear mode of reading text fails to provide enough clues for us to extract much information from your arrangement. In my opinion, however, "native-ness" is a function of both intent and ultimate structural appearance. Thus hypertextuality becomes truly "native" only when, for your next "e-paper," you begin the writing process with an expectation of hypertextuality, and organize your thoughts based on a model of distinct but cross-referenced essays from the beginning of the writing process.