Thursday, April 27, 2006
Instructions for authors of Hypertext Bible Commentary (draft) continued... ::

Still no comments or suggestions on the site, but a couple of small changes to wording have been suggested in person, please do think about these "instructions" as getting them right could be important to the shape and success of the project!

2. How electronic hypertext and print differ

A text is one continuous sequential series of sentences organised into paragraphs and other higher-level clusters. A hypertext comprises a number of short discrete texts that are interlinked in complex non-linear ways. An electronic hypertext is read on-screen. These two differences (linked chunks vs. sequence, and screen vs. print) make writing effectively for the two media very different.

2.1. Thinking links

Since hypertext is composed of linked lexia, and since readers may have reached any lexia by several (or even very many) different routes, each lexia should stand alone. So (to help you avoid overlooking material you planned to write) compose each lexia as a separate document. As you edit your material, do not always read the lexia in the same order, so you will be more likely to spot where explanation links are needed.

Each lexia should be relatively short and focused. A couple of hundred words is a good length, often if you get beyond this length you could think of splitting the unit in two parts! When writing hypertext, within reason, fragmentation is good since it enhances focus. In a text coherence and structure are vital, however focus is vital in a single lexia (written to work as part of a hypertext).

As you read over what you have written think about what beginners will need explained. Either build in a link to an existing explanation (Bible Dictionary article or lexia you have already written) or make a blank document with a heading that reminds you to write the required lexia. E.g. if the reader needs some summary introduction to “Prophets in the Mari texts” then make a document with this heading, and a brief note to yourself about why it is needed. This way later you can prepare the required lexia, and can build in the necessary link as you are still writing the first lexia.

Similarly where colleagues or other readers may want to know your evidence or reasons create a document and link to it (as “justification”) even if it only has a title at this stage.

2.2. Scanning not Reading

Readers of text on screen have been shown not to “read” sequentially, but rather to scan pages for information.[1] When writing for this medium it is helpful to bear this tendency in mind and adapt one’s style accordingly. Features that have been shown to promote comprehension include:

The best advice from practitioners of writing for screen, as well as empirical studies like Neilsen and Morkes, suggest that as academics we need to reverse our usual writing “logic”. Traditionally we write towards a conclusion. Readers onscreen expect to work outwards from a summary. This is called a “reverse pyramid” – writing towards a conclusion focuses down towards the end, the reverse pyramid puts what is most significant first.

Traditionally, people scan English language documents by reading the first few words of each paragraph. For this reason, put only one idea in each paragraph. And put the main idea right up front, in the first few words…. Never tease people and force them to guess your point.[2]

2.3. Enabling reading not leading readers

The role of commentary is to describe and explain the text. Comment seeks to assist its reader to understand and make sense of the text. To this end difficulties and puzzles in the text are exposed, described and explained, context is explained… However, traditional commentary is driven by the sequential print format to lead the reader towards sharing the commentator’s interpretation of the text.

Hypertext, with its links and varied paths is more conducive to allowing its users to explore aspects of the text that interest them. Thus, although a hypertext commentator can present their “way of reading the book”, it is less easy for them to insist on this way of reading. By contrast the form facilitates offering the user other “ways of reading” also. This openness is a feature of the medium that we are keen to exploit, so authors are asked to present not only their own reading of the text, but also to explore and present material that might be useful or interesting for other readings.

Sectarian reading of the Bible is common (not only religiously sectarian but also "secular sectarian readings" e.g. those that deny the possibility of supernatural events described in the text). Such sectarian readings may be presented, but where possible authors should identify them as such using phrases like “a Christian reader might understand…”, and where possible more than one such reading should be presented. E.g. when commenting on Isaiah 9, New Testament use of the passage to refer to Jesus should not be overlooked, but nor should it be the only understanding presented.

[1] John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen "Concise, SCANNABLE, and Objective: How to Write for the Web" (downloaded 30/06/00)

[2] R. McAlpine, Web Word Wizardry, Wellington: Corporate Communications, 1999. 98.

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