When I initially wrote this introduction to hypertext essays in 2000, my assumption was that readers would be experienced writers who already knew what an essay was, so that I could use that knowledge to differentiate between an ordinary essay and a hypertext essay.
By 2017, we are teaching “multimodal composition” in our freshman writing classes. Some of the students come in with great writing skills (and I always tell them to contact their high school teachers and thank them). Others are still developing the critical thinking skills that a composition course is designed to hone. A multimodal composition asks students to make an evidence-based point using words and some other medium (photos, graphics, animation, video, etc).
I’ll need to introduce the concept to my students some other way. I sometimes call this a “richly-linked hypertext,” but I don’t have a stand-alone handout that takes that approach. Still, this original handout from 2000 gets a fair amount of web traffic, so I thought it was worth some minor updates.
The ordinary prose essay has been around for hundreds of years; people have had a long time to discover how to write a good one. But hypertext is a much more recent invention.
While the world of business and information technology offers plenty of practical, sensible advice to hypertext authors whose goal is to convey information rapidly and efficiently (see Nielsen’s How Users Read on the Web), there are times when a creative author may wish to challenge the reader’s expectations, or hold back important information in order to create suspense. For example, Lee Libby’s “Passing Theory in Action” uses a different navigation bar on each page; the intention, I think, is to play with the reader’s expectations; but I always lose interest before I get very far in that article. —Hypertext Essays