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Definition of Hypertext and Webtext Used in the Survey
Defining hypertext often seems to be a difficult endeavor. In Bowie's study, she clearly separated Webtexts from hypertext. But how  does she separate and define them? In short, hypertext could be defined to include Webtext, but not all Webtext are hypertexts.


  • Multilinear
  • Multimedia (possibly)
  • Reader Control

Anderson, Benjamin, and Paredes-Holt in Connections: A Guide to Online Writing view hypertext as a rich interconnected text:

Hypertexts are compositions that link pieces of information together in complex interactive Webs, often incorporating sound, graphics, and video. Instead of presenting information in a linear fashion, hypertexts organize materials into a series of interconnected units or nodes. Rather than beginning with the first paragraph, for instance, and proceeding through the document until the end, a reader navigates through a hypertext by selecting which node to follow and in what order [...] hypertext offers authors a tremendous amount of flexibility to make connections between information. (188)

Bolter, in Writing Space, defines electronic text (a name he uses for texts that include hypertext) as a "network rather than a straight line [...] available for reading in a variety of orders [...] where the rules of print are ignored" (IX-X). He later suggests that electronic text is "not a fixed sequence of letters, but is instead from the writer's point of view a network of verbal elements and from the reader's point of view a texture of possible readings. An electronic text permits the reader to share in the dynamic process of writing. The text is realized by the reader in the act of reading"(5-6). Bolter, and others including Joyce, Landow, Bernstein, see hypertext as the possibility to write as one thinks, through associations, connections, and jumps. Linear sequential text works in a way the mind does not. Hypertext "goes beyond symbols or abstraction" (Kemp 7/26).
          Horton adds some variety of media to the definition. He points out that the two terms hypertext and hypermedia are often used interchangeably. He states that hypertext is the older and more general term and it often includes hypermedia. However, he contends that some people see hypermedia as the broader term that includes sound, video, music, and images, whereas hypertext only refers to more static (without moving images) text-based documents (22).
          Austin, who is looking at student hypertext, has developed three levels of electronic text, which she calls "'primitive,' 'linked,' and 'true hypertext.'" Perhaps not surprisingly it is only the last category in which we can find hypertext. The other levels include texts that are linear "Webbed" paper documents to documents with links to the biography. Austin and I agree that the types of electronic writing that do not fit into the "true hypertext" category are simply Webtexts.
          Putting these definitions together and developing them, we can arrive at a more concrete definitions of hypertext. Hypertext is a form of communication where the possible reader/writer paths are multiple. The reader becomes a writer by directing her own reading through link choices and reading decisions. Hypertext does not just refer to text, but a possible mixture of text, images, videos, animation, music, sounds, and other (possibly as yet unimagined) different media.
          Unlike the linear book, hypertext provides options for choosing multiple paths. Often hypertext is called nonlinear, however it is not completely possible to be nonlinear in reading or writing, due to the way our language is set up. Letters follow each other linearly, as do words, sentences, paragraphs, and even pages or nodes. Nonlinear suggests no linearity, which is impossible for a verbal-based text. Even if our writings allowed nonlinearly, hypertext would still not be nonlinear. Nonlinearly suggests there are no line, or paths, in the text, which in turn suggests no connections. However, hypertext is a highly connected text that has many possible paths. The writer creates these paths when writing and the reader accesses, and sometimes creates, these paths when reading. "Kafkaz" (MOO pseudonym) states nonlinearity "is largely illusory" (KMTA). However, multilinearity is quite possible--there can be several possible paths the reader/writer can take. With these paths, the reader creates a "linear" text as she weaves the linked nodes she chose together. Even in a multilinear/hypertextual text the path reader reads/creates could be considered a linear document.
          In hypertext this "linear" document changes from reader to reader and even reading to reading. The reader is given this choice of possible paths, instead of more linear writing where the path is singular (or narrow) and very dictated by the form or writing.

In short, the word hypertext, in this document, means a multilinear multimedia text where the reader can act as author and choose her own unique path through the text.

  • Are on the Web or can be read in a browser
  • May be linear or multilinear
  • Some Reader Control
Bolter, Joyce, and others do not see the Web as hypertext. Or, perhaps more appropriately, they see the Web as having the possibility of being hypertext, but do not see much of what is on the Web as hypertext, because what is on the Web is not "art" or literature, and also because the Web is static. "Hypertext is interlinked writing, usually read on a computer. The Web is a hypertext. So are lots of other things" (Bernstein). As Joyce argues, the Web is not an art because it does not have surface, recurrence, and rhythm:

You've obviously hit on the stratagem that the most of us use to make the Web more truly hypertextual, using the map to somehow intervene in the endless branchedness of the link, its constant edge-to-edge linking, to somehow reintroduce surface, recurrence, rhythm. (moo2.html)

It is also the static nature of the Web which Joyce and others have problems with. Bernstein and Joyce see the Web as a possible hypertext platform, but not necessarily as hypertext. Joyce states:

My standard definition [of hypertext] is reading and writing (viewing and editing) in an order you choose where your choices change the nature of what you read or view [...] in that sense the Web is *not at all* "naturally suited to present hypertext" (moo2.html).

Elessar, in the KMTA, made a good point:

Well, I guess it depends on your definition of hypertext [...] I read plenty of documents which are in a hypertext format, but I haven't found much hypertext fiction (i.e. fiction which makes heavy use of the capabilities of hypertext) that thrills me. (KMTA)

The Web and hypertext often employ similar methods of navigation and both utilize multilinear text. Unlike hypertext, the Web can be more linear. Often, especially in the earlier years of the Web, linear documents were simply placed online. The linking, which allows multilinear text, was used in similar ways to traditional print medium for things like footnotes. However as the Web develops, more texts are taking advantage of the potential of multilinearity on the Web. I believe that as users become more familiar with multilinear texts on the Web they will be better able to understand, navigate, and even enjoy hypertext fiction.
          My use of the term Webtext acknowledges the differences between the Web and hypertext. Some Webtexts are hypertext, but many others just incorporate a few of the multilinear and hypertextual possibilities. Webtexts are found on the World Wide Web and, like hypertext, can be multimedia. They will have links between different nodes, however the text may be designed to be read more linearly than hypertextually.