Authoring: Choices in order

Choices a writer makes in ordering a hypertext limit the choices of the reader. The writer decides what part of the story readers see first, as well as what links readers can follow from there. This principle applies to all pages in the hypertext; the writer chooses which parts of the article are accessible from other parts of the article and which are not.

Linking decisions create different reading orders for the same story. Different people would link the same texts differently, depending on their knowledge of the subject and their idea of good hyperlinking (Pang, 1998b).

The ordering process includes:

  • Evaluating the major threads.
  • Selecting the ideas that matter most.
  • Considering what the majority of readers will be curious about or will need to know more about.

Once the writer selects the primary threads, all the others become secondary to those. Depending on the size of the hypertext, tertiary and even more "removed" threads may also be constructed. The reader will not discover these threads until they become relevant.

The writer's control of hypertext construction does not make the article the same, ultimately, as a linear text. A linear article offers one thread defined by the writer. The writer structures the article one way with a beginning, middle, and ending. This choice of story order gives the writer the official "final word."

In a nonlinear article, the writer establishes "a structure of possible structures" for the article (Bolter, 1991). Depending on how the writer links components, multiple possible reading orders emerge. Choosing from these, the reader defines a path through the article, deciding on his or her own final word.

But the writer, through linking, establishes the orders in which possible "final" words are available in the first place. Choices made in ordering a hypertext represent control reserved for the writer.