The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Commentary 2: Hypertext

In Chapter 3: Hypertext and the Remediation of Print in the book Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print, Jay Bolter examines hypertext. In the introduction to the chapter, he states how common hypertext has become and that it provides beneficial links to other information (Bolter, 2001, p.27). He compares hypertext to a footnote in a book and says that it is the electronic equivalent of a footnote, except that hypertext can point to a page that has additional hypertext links that point to additional pages that are not necessarily less important (Bolter, 2001, p.27). He states that the role of hypertext is to provide a transparent structure to a website, provide footnote-like information, and define relationships (Bolter, 2001, p.27). He also describes the role of writers who use hypertext: “The principle task of authors of hypertextual fiction on the Web or in stand-alone form is to use links to define relationships among textual elements, and these links constitute the rhetoric of the hypertext” (Bolter, 2001, p.28-29).

The author has subdivided the chapter into the following sections:

·        Word Processing and Topical Writing

·        Hypertext

·        Writing as Construction

·        Global Hypertext

·        Hypertext as Remediation

·        The Old and New Hypertext

In Word Processing and Topical Writing, Bolter (2001) describes word-processing with a computer as being a dynamic and flexible way to work because documents can easily be edited (p.29). He states that when word processing, writers think and write about topics “whose meaning transcends their constituent words” (Bolter, 2001, p.29). Also through word processing, you can set up complex hierarchies of many topics in a tree-like structure which is a manageable way to work because word processing enables users to move, delete and add information with ease, unlike a typewriter, where more than one hierarchy is difficult to manage (Bolter, 2001, p.32).

In Hypertext, Bolter (2001) describes the process of writing on a computer called prewriting in which students create a “network of elements” (p.33) that can be easily edited, moved around, and removed (p.33). Prior to writing with a computer, the writing process was linear (Bolter, 2001, p.33). Bolter (2001) describes the electronic connections that hypertext affords its readers compared to having to use an index or page numbers in printed books (p.35). He also describes electronic writing as being topographic whereby writers organize their text into units of information that are linked to a “textual structure spatially as well as verbally” (Bolter, 2001, p.36).

In Writing as Construction, Bolter (2001) describes writing with a computer as being both inclusive because it is “open to multiple systems of representation” (p.36) and constructive because “an electronic writer can build new elements from traditional ones” (p.37).

In Global Hypertext, Bolter (2001) defines hypertext as “the dynamic interconnection of a set of symbolic elements” (p.38). He states that it’s the melding of both computer programming and writing that creates hypertext whereby writers write within data structures (Bolter, 2001, p.38).

In Hypertext as Remediation, Bolter (2001) states that hypertext would not exist without digital technology and that it is the “remediation of print” (p.42) because it is an improvement to printed text, which is linear and static (p.42). He states that hypertext is more representative of how people think because people think by making associations, not in a linear manner (p.42). As a result, the use of hypertext allows us to “write as we think” (Bolter, p.42).

In the Old and the New Hypertext, Bolter (2001) describes hypertext as a type of writing that has made a break from the past with printed writing (p.44).  It is characterized by “interactivity and the unification of text and graphics for achieving an authentic experience for its reader” (Bolter, 2001, p.45). Bolter (2001) describes the dependency that hypertext has on print: “print forms the tradition on which electronic writing depends, and electronic writing is that which goes beyond print” (p.46). This dependency is reminiscent of “the age of Secondary Orality” (Ong, 1982, p.3) meaning that electronic technology such as hypertext “depends on writing and print for its existence” (Ong, 1982, p.3).

Throughout the chapter, Bolter (2001) describes hypertext as being a positive invention due to the fact that word processing and the creation of hypertext links have made the processes of writing and reading easier. However, DeStefano and LeFevre (2005) state that hypertext links impair reading performance due to the fact that it makes it more demanding for people to make decisions and process graphics while reading (p.1636).

Bolter (2001) also provides a positive account on the linking capability of hypertext links: being able to link to additional information. Horton (2006) concurs that people are accustomed today to being able to quickly read through online text by using hypertext links to navigate through an online document and link to relevant information inside or outside an online document (p. 534-535). Horton (2006) recommends the use of hypertext links when designing eLearning courses because hypertext links make it easier for learners to access and read about topics related to the course content (p.305). Horton (2006) suggests that hypertext links be used to cross-reference reference information, background theoretical information, exceptions to rules, procedures, definitions, and prerequisite information (p. 305-306).

However, Clark and Mayer (2008) recommend that hypertext links be used sparingly when designing an eLearning course because if they are used too much, they can have a negative impact on the learner’s ability to learn (p.308). They recommend that hypertext links not be used for core course information and that they be used for information that is peripheral to the course as many learners will skip the linked information (Clark and Mayer, 2008, p.308). In addition, Driscoll (2000) also cautions against the use of hypertext links in instruction because they can distract the learner by removing them from where they are currently learning and sending them off in different directions (p.161-162).


The invention of hypertext has revolutionised the way in which people write and read electronic documents and learn.  Bolter (2001) describes the many qualities that hypertext has brought to us including: ease of writing, ease of linking to additional information, ease of navigating, and ease of reading. In addition, hypertext links can be a wonderful resource when designing an eLearning course. However, they need to be used with caution: only when necessary and not for essential core course content as they can distract the learner.



Bolter, J. (2001).  Writing spaces: computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print.  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Eribaum.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2008). e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Pfeiffer San Francisco.

DeStefano, D. & LeFevre, J. (2007). Cognitive Load in hypertext Reading: A review. Computers in Human Behaviour, 23, 1616-1641.

Driscoll, M.P. (2000). Psychology of Learning for Instruction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Horton, W  (2006) E-Learning by Design, John Willey & Sons, Inc.

Ong, Walter (1982). Orality and literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Methuen.

1 comment

1 Clare Roche { 11.29.09 at 9:18 am }

I definitely agree that we need to proceed with caution. I have found that following hypertext links means that I often take longer to find what I need and sometimes I get sidetracked from what I should be doing.

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