Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Sept. 9, 2022, 7:39 a.m. Humanist 36.164 - reading and hypertexted texts

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 164.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2022-09-08 15:08:05+00:00
        From: Dan Johnson <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.161: reading and hypertexted texts

Dear All,

This is an interesting question, and I too would be curious to see any
research on the topic. I would submit, pace Henry, that hyperlinks present
a different "rhetorical nudge" than a footnote or endnote. Footnotes, at
least in my experience, do not cut into the reading with the same stridency
as the blue underlined text, and it's usually easy to tell on the vision's
periphery whether the footnote is going to contain substantive information
or a simple bibliographic reference. Hyperlinks, however, are often
ambiguous about intent, and I find myself pausing to hover over the link
until a tooltip appears with the URL, which might hint at content. And the
purpose can vary widely. A link to a simple definition of a technical term
can be helpful or otiose. A link to a referenced known resource may or may
not be a good idea. Then there are the links which are slipped in to appear
like a factual data reference to back up a claim, but which lead only to
conjectural polemic. These are only a few examples.

In sum, because of the breadth of possible hyperlink "functions" and the
relative lack of paratextual conventions and contexts available to
footnotes -- combined with the visual weight of blue underlined text -- I
feel that hyperlinks carry a different kind of cognitive load, and this
loads tells on the reader, especially when hyperlinks proliferate. But I
don't have the larger data to back up this subjective interpretation.


On Thu, Sep 8, 2022 at 1:57 AM Humanist <> wrote:

>               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 161.
>         Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                       Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                 Submit to:
>         Date: 2022-09-07 13:59:13+00:00
>         From: Henry Schaffer <>
>         Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.159: reading and hypertexted texts?
> Dear Willard,
> I view hyperlinks in academic publications as equivalent to footnotes (or
> endnotes.) Yes, they can consume a lot of space, but using space to convey
> needed information is a necessity.
> Take a look at law review articles which are festooned with footnotes. In
> my one such article, we had 368 footnotes and sometimes half the page, or
> more, was filled with them (even though they are printed in a smaller font
> than the article text.)
> Would it have been better to leave out the footnotes in an attempt to
> attain "elegance"? It might have made the pages look better, but it
> certainly would have greatly decreased the information presented.
> I will agree with you that easily found and generally known items shouldn't
> be linked or footnoted - but I seldom see something like a date, e.g.,
> September 7, 2922, with a footnote to a source such as
> which explains how calendar
> dates are formulated. :-)
> --henry
> On Wed, Sep 7, 2022 at 1:43 AM Humanist <> wrote:
> >
> >               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 159.
> >         Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
> >                       Hosted by DH-Cologne
> >              
> >                 Submit to:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >         Date: 2022-09-07 05:39:37+00:00
> >         From: Willard McCarty <>
> >         Subject: reading and hypertexted texts
> >
> > Is anyone here aware of studies done to determine the effects on reading
> > of heavily linked texts? I suspect from my own experience that links are
> > quite often a distraction, even when the software presenting the text
> > displays them as blue underlined words. (Humanist, for example, does not
> > do that; URLs are always visible.) Then, too, linking items that can
> > easily be found is otiose. It is also suggests the presumed reader is
> > not only not reading, only prowling for information, but also either too
> > lazy or insufficiently competent to find this information unassisted.
> >
> > Even a cursory study of magazine advertisements across a range of
> > publications will show that those which are presenting expensive
> > products are very often quite simple, uncluttered, even elegant, while
> > those selling cheap things are cluttered, noisy, garish etc. Inelegant,
> > overstated design, I suggest, communicates low price, cheap goods. If we
> > translate this into presentation of text online, I suggest that heavily
> > hypertexted text communicates, well, you see the point...
> >
> > And now extend that to self-advertising online...
> >
> > Comments? Arguments?
> >
> > Yours,
> > WM
> > --
> > Willard McCarty,
> > Professor emeritus, King's College London;
> > Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist
> >

Daniel Johnson, Ph.D.
English; Digital Humanities; and Film, Television, and Theatre 
Navari Family Center for Digital Scholarship, Hesburgh Libraries

University of Notre Dame
250C Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame, IN 46556
o: 574-631-3457

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