Hypertexts are particularly well suited to the task of providing information.
Search engines within web sites enable users
to locate specific information with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks.
They create the possibility for realizing elements of Nelson's "docuverse,"
a network of interconnected documents that dramatically increases the
ability to share information.
More importantly, the nonlinear, reader-centric
elements of hypertext actually make information retrieval relatively straightforward
for the user with the appropriate search skills. The literate hypertext
user picks her way through hypertext in a quest for the information she
seeks at any particular moment.
These informational capabilities of hypertext are what interest citizen
and consumer groups, government agencies and institutions, and even commercial
enterprises in hypertexts. Almost anyone can insert almost any information
into the web of material on the internet.
The research paper or report
provides information to the reader, and need not be at odds with the information
richness of hypertext. But this feature of hypertext does complicate a
central element of the academic research essayan argument, or what
Kolb calls "a line" ("Socrates" 326).
As Janangelo discovered when he received his first hypertext "essays"
from students, the author faces a practical
tension beween the focus of an academic research essay and the centrifugal,
information-rich properties of hypertext. Compounding this tension is
the reality that users approach hypertexts in instrumentalist terms, reading
only pieces of any hypertext. "Hypertext can turn a reader into a
wanderer" (Janangelo 30).
How does the author of a hypertext research essay convince or persuade
a user of her position when the user engages only a small fraction of
the hypertext, or navigates in fits and starts?
The most common approaches to hypertext argument still evade this issue.
(Briefly review the hypertexts recently published in this, or almost any,
online academic journal.) They abandon a serious effort to explore nonlinearity
and settle for versions of linear hypertext, what I am here calling the
HTML essay and the extralinear
I want to suggest a more nuanced approach to the research
essay, an approach that involves constructing multilinear