Threads or pathways

A "thread" is a path that the reader follows through an article. A typical written-for-print article has a single thread, from beginning to end, which the writer expects the reader to follow. The construction of this thread lies at the core of the craft of writing.

The absence of a unilinear thread marks the most obvious difference between hypertext and the typical printed text. The responsibility of constructing threads remains with the writer, but the writer acknowledges that hypertext form requires multiple threads — not just one.

If the writer provides access to all the components from the very start of the hypertext (by linking them there), and maintains that same complete access in each component, then the reader can construct a thread almost at will — whatever path the reader takes will become the thread for that reader.

Making all the components equally available is practical in smaller hypertexts. With a small number of components (six or fewer), the reader can evaluate the links to all of them and choose one, without too much difficulty. In such a hypertext, all the threads are reader-built threads.

With a larger number of components, the writer must construct a hierarchy so that the reader will not be burdened with confusing decisions about where to go next. This hierarchy opens particular pathways (or threads) and closes off others. The possible pathways are author-built threads.