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COMPREHENDING NON-LINEAR TEXT: The Role of Discourse Cues and Reading Strategies

Davida Charney

Department of English The Pennsylvania State University University Park, PA 16802

ABSTRACT
By studying the structure of written discourse and the processes by which readers

acquire information from texts, we have learned a great deal about how to design texts that facilitate learning. like. However, recent advances in computer technology have enabled for learning because the sequence systems they lack the development of new forms of text that violate standard assumptions of what texts are These new forms may pose serious problems traditionally rely on the writer to determine cues that signal relationships However, on-line discourse features that readers rely on for assimilating new information. readers employ conventional importance non-linearly, In particular,

of topics and to present texts

among topics, such as relative to read and in what order.

or chronology.

hypertext

requiring readers to decide what information

This paper assesses the potential impact of non-linear texts on theories of discourse and on current cognitive theories of text processing. on readers sequencing strategies in hypertext. satisfy readers needs. It also describes research in progress Research on the effect of hypertext on

reading will have important practical implications for designing hypertext systems that

PROBLEMS

POSED FOR READERS


of a text as a collection sequence or

BY NON-LINEAR

TEXTS
has carefully theorists have
109

Most people think organized


November1987

of ideas that a writer pattern. Discourse

into

a coherent

Hypertext87 Papers

identified from outline structural integrate readers small

a host of stable patterns that writers units [Ha1176], patterns its parts. understand

employ

on every level

of text,

such as sentences and paragraphs, [Vand79], Empirical and learn structures [Fahn83]. studies from of Indeed, the type reading

up to grand as readers, we

schemas that depend confirm signals on and that is of

the structure of an entire text, such as a fairy tale, a resume or a policy to help us recognize of text when [Fras70]. strongly we are reading the information clear

argument

comprehension

texts more [Vand83], of

easily

set out in well-defined shifts from text as an any natural disposition ordered constraints

and when the text provides [Kier80], is

one part to the next succession print

But apart from reinforced by the pages

we may have to look for structure in a text, our view of concepts medium: texts come to us on printed

of the standard

that we generally Today, computer blocks, of text the

read in order, from the top down and from left to right. of the medium of are developing complex of the text networks. editor are being texts systems For EMACS lifted on-line that is by link developments monolithic pieces reference as a In to individual the on-line [Conk87]. developed in

constraints

technology. software together for network into users

Instead

storing

as large,

designers

example, stored

information hierarchical addition materials. Universitys Universitys general control Instead computer from The documents, texts different choose

of facts that users can access in any order a reference databases, examples function, of such , Xerox These through interesting sources networks networks PARCs systems are also being include NoteCards Neptune give as writing environments,

to serving Recent

serve as sophisticated

and as instructional Carnegie-Mellon [Hala87], [Deli861 much they Brown (for a greater see it. the

ZOG system [Robe791 INTERMEDIA [Yank85], see [Conk87]). or skimming order The of up most and

and Tektronixs

overview, of reading to screen.

readers

over the information

they see and the sequence in which a text from of text so the they systems beginning link reader the pieces

to end, readers onto information related in the text.

use menus

want .to read together can points access

a variety become selection different

media non-linear of pieces

graphics,

and audio-visual in

displays

at various

hvnertexts: on different

each reader may choose to view a a different sequence; any given reader may occasions.

sequences

110

Hypertext87 Papers

November1987

Along the

with network,

greater often

control, without

of course, the aid the

comes a greater of traditional such with

burden structural networks

for the readers, cues. may in the Most present, textbase. the

who must now hypertext especially They among networked material While how a readers with report menu

locate

the information recognize who and evidence by

they need and relate it to other facts in problems

designers for readers informal items

are unfamiliar the

the concepts of maneuvering

that users may be overwhelmed difficulties

by the choice through

text structure. that fair is not of handle normal

As a result, they to of their

readers can lose track of where they are and often [Yank85], on research seriously little and how underway read a great [WhitU], the has deal of [Trig83]. design these and investigated problems purpose is very texts

in the network

(and where relevant hypertext amount

have been),

research systems, processes.

implementation interfere

such unorthodox reading

ISSUES FOR RESEARCH


Given impact theories research Three readers through mental hypertext the growing of non-linear can research adopt inform issues for interest texts in hypertext on theories theory especially pieces build of of systems, it is important to assess the cognitive interaction, design. do the can a path (i.e., strategies

of discourse as well

and on current system What

of text processing. cognitive appear sequencing

As in other

areas of human-computer as practical (1) (i.e., (3) processes? influence important: hypertext

constructing learning What

the network)? representations designers

(2) How readers employ

do such strategies the text)? reading

strategies

to facilitate

Readers
Since little on reading, cues, information research the pieces

Sequencing
systematic

Strategies
is available

In

Hypertext
of non-linear that to text

evidence

about the effects Although learning we from orders

it is important sequencing a poor in

to assess the seriousness conventions. can impair on how

of the absence of discourse know a text presenting little sequence poor. [Barn84],

especially

order

has been of a text

conducted

readers

themselves

choose

and whether

reader-chosen

are generally

November1987

Hypertext87 Papers

111

The most reasonable have trouble meaningful math wording relationships. programmers they given

prediction the This word

is that readers new to the subject pieces prediction problems problem have there of a text in groupings

domain that

will but the deep

sequencing

reflect

relationships. classify the Similar [Adel8 11. articles

has not yet been tested directly, First, there is empirical by been superficial noted for situation rather evidence similarities than novice that by in

it is supported students or

by two kinds of evidence. hypothetical strategies Second,

evidence that

computer

is anecdotal

inexperienced or tables when readers are the

readers of scientific are referred poorly

and textbooks what

fail to look

at figures

to in the text. of selecting or omit sequencing tvne: (e.g., historical

These results information include:

suggest that when ahogether.

the responsibility

text to read, they

may sequence

information Other

important questions do

important Information information definitions,


Prior

readers while

consistently consistently

read

certain

types

of (e.g.,

examples),

skipping

others

background)?
how does prior knowledge influence a readers

knowlege: strategy? what to

sequencing deciding

Are

domain Determining

experts when

better they

than have

novices read

at

read?

enough?

Mental
While system, sequence pieces of

Representations
it is important order the such to know on what readers

of
how they ability

Hypertext
readers construct learn. to a path through how a hypertext

the heart of the question affect text,

is not what grasp

order they choose, but the effect does the chosen between different ordering, relationships spatial

of the chosen

In particular,

as relative

importance,

or chronological

cause and effect, A


to

and so on? of research information suggests at the that top readers of the that construct hierarchy Kintsch hierarchical than specific,

large
remember

body

representations low-level
112

of the text they read [Vand83]. general Crucially, the mental

Readers are much more likely and van Dijk


November 1987

details.

mechanism

Hypertext 87 Papers

[Kint78]

propose encounter (i.e.,

to explain propositions arguments

this in

readers concepts

effect turns on the order in the text and the degree to which the by that propositions) each new creating the are repeated with chains in of proposition networks in in the text the text reuse

levels

in which important successive into the their same repeated a mental in a local memory for or high

sentences. internal, arguments. arguments, textbase. region invent level links

Readers hierarchical To the text the

incorporate textbase extent is more must

sentences

coherent link either

and the easier recall earlier The

it is to create is available from advantage likely

When no explicit of text, a link readers through

to previous processes.

propositions

propositions memory are most

inference

propositions throughout

arises because the text. memory.

these propositions Memory for

to provide improves as

The model

assumes that links memory

are created between

propositions

in working

a given proposition increases.

the number of times it cycles through The advent of hypertext to text processing. seems to assumes that a relatively assumption information. order between create potential network provide quite internal be useful reminders on Amost information. and

working

raises a number Kintsch on

of interesting

issues for this processing of model

approach [Kint78] This of links truly the of the be an only a fixed of are tend to

First,

and van Dijks a linear however, [Conk871 network: links reading hypertext

stable textbase can be derived depend Conklin referential links raise will

from a given text. a fixed two links that for types (which amount avoids imposing

by definition,

distinguishes organizational (which Conklin hypertexts problems taking network. a text Second,

the nodes in a hypertext hierarchy) of hypertext). For with for example, equivalent helping concepts

observes fully paths

characteristic a textbase.

Obviously, interesting readers textbases? readers

exploit through may for

of referential emerge graphic important

the construction

different These

some hypertext displays by guideline base:

systems providing may

displays

of the information

construct However, network

of previous representation to the extent

and by providing

an explicit itself

of the network. that the hypertext

such a guideline is strictly

hierarchical.

November1987

Hypertext87 Papers

113

Hypertext
Assuming sequencing evaluate

Design:
that their learners reading, of menu texts?

Reinventing
have trouble

Discourse
coping research with goal

Cues
the will responsibility be to design texts. of and

an important discourse items Will

methods

of adapting

cues for non-linear

For example, as sequence from

can the listing cues in standard the current

serve some of the same functions

readers follow

cues such as cross-references

one piece of text to another when the referenced piece of text does not follow one? designers have (e.g., make in have for relied on the text general and processing they tell information transitions [Kier85]. reading, notions they of literature writers before between While may writers be to support specific sections these quite or interpret

Document their text explicit, new

recommendations hierarchically to only

to writers. stating

For example,

to organize

information), terms

presuppositions predicates found to that

to use a small

set of often repeated vocabulary clause been [Felk81], facilitate How incorporate

items and to introduce

recommendations hard to follow document first design mention?

writers

of hypertext.

can hypertext

recommendations

precedence

At this point draw the line For example, and content of text. system hypertext work

in the development between of nodes may constraints

of hypertext decisions planning a given

systems, it is not clear where to and *document in the network the segmentation writer working designers design decisions. and the size and labelling hypertext a flexible therefore with must

system design are critical be left for

on the types of links

However, or they system.

these constraints up to designers System

may be imposed and document facilitating

for a particular

together

to define

strategies

for

reading

processes.

SEQUENCING
This section

STRATEGIES:
a study

RESEARCH

IN PROGRESS

describes

that addresses some of the issues raised in the

previous

While the study is the issue of topic sequencing. still in its initial stages, the design is presented to illustrate one approach to for designing optimal hypertext databases and interfaces. collecting data section, specifically

Participants unfamiliar text will system). training program recorded. be

in

this

experiment program in will will (viz.,

will

study

on-line (via for

information Tektronixs using the

about

an The

software

an electronic network a training from

spreadsheet

program).

presented subjects

a hypertext include study

Neptune In the will be to on spreadsheet to solve The basic work

The experiment phase, and their

phase and a test phase. the information network

the procedures

sequence

of choices

In the test phase, subjects will of the sequencing the study texts [Rede86), subjects various will ways

use the spreadsheet program

a series of problems reveal the effects methodology skill learning for from

that apply the studied procedures. has been used [Char86]. successfully

The test is intended in previous

choices on what subjects learn.

In the training This users spreadsheet

phase, in

read about Microsofts a number to solve of problems. of other

Multiplan For

program. that some at the This of

program

involves

independent

procedures example,

can combine

procedures discretion diversity

must be executed of the user, of procedures

in a fixed subjects

sequence, some can be applied the effect to acquire procedures.

and some undo requires

a deep understanding

what the procedures

are for, as well as how to execute them.

Subjects
Volunteers research measure screening from [Char861 will device. will the will PSU community (undergraduates A questionnaire statistical has prior and/or staff) will be This as a

paid a fee to participate

in the study. in the

developed rather with

in previous than

be used to assess previous no one who to participate.

computer analyses,

experience.

be used primarily However, be allowed

experience

electronic

spreadsheets

Design

and

Procedure
above, the research study will phase, subjects will network. involve a training phase and a test contained to study in the

As described phase. the network hypertext

In the training

read the information assigned

Subjects will be randomly in one of the following four conditions:

November1987

Hypertext87 Papers

115

Pre-Planned

Seauencinq:

subjects will

be presented

with

a listing

of

menu choices and asked to rank them in the order in which like to read them. order. Ounortunistic condition should Seauencinq: reveal subjects will be presented with Subjects will subsequently

they would

read the text in the chosen

a listing

of This

menu choices and allowed

to select and read topics to which

in any order.

the extent

readers can use information

in one piece of text as a cue to choosing the next piece. Random Seauence: subjects will be told to read the topics in a prescribed order).

random order (or perhaps in alphabetical Guided logical Seauence: order,

subjects will be told to read the topics in a prescribed between the topics. This condition base-lines Sequence condition are intended to provide

based on relationships

and the Random for evaluating This various This design guided

the sequences subjects devise themselves. reader-chosen ordering have orders either to two baselines. a random compared [Bam84], choose will Previous sequence the effects or of

compares on topic sequences,

experiments

enforced

but have not systematically that the orders

these orders to those that learners choose for themselves design tests the prediction subjects than random orders, but worse than a logical guided sequence. The that order sequence subjects the of with related will will topics little For terms that conditions computer example, subjects will they choose will group in

[Maye76]. be better

the

Pre-Planned criteria that

and to use

Opportunistic

Sequencing topics.

be recorded may

and analyzed. use superficial together

It is likely

experience

topics of whether

semantically the topics orderings ratings

in the menu listings, on each other. metrics. often by several wiIl how

regardless For

or not

have any actual bearing be evaluated in the network

In any case, the subjects instance, the relatedness raters. These topics in

of the topics succession.

be judged

by independent subjects

be used to quantify

read unrelated

116

Hypertext 87 Papers

November 1987

In The

the

testing that

phase, call which grasped be able

subjects will the be

will similar will

attempt they to

to those

solve in

problems the

using

the in the of

spreadsheet previous procedures subjects procedures procedures. of problems the errors compare expected chosen perform

on the procedures [Char86],

studied whether between that

training learned For

phase.

problems, and should

employed subjects them. fixed

successfully

research

reveal out tasks will way. in topics

relationships

instance, of similar

to carry

involve

sequences

and they should Subjects they that make subjects

be able to choose the more appropriate be evaluated They different in more will most in terms important

performance along of who or the read the

of the number analyses It will is

they can solve, how long it takes to solve them and the nature of subjects training logical learn conditions. sequences more and

the performance by themselves

(whether therefore

experimenter) phase.

better

in the testing

IMPLICATIONS
Non-linear analysis, perspective, use of however, processing. purposes whether Since entering have satisfy text

FOR FUTURE
presents exciting and

RESEARCH
opportunities cognitive verbal is growing for science, information. our assumptions theories questions researchers From More in the discourse practical

document computers

design for

the need for good design transmitting medium the the electronic Some readers of

as rapidly

as the increasing importantly, texts what are it and text of what include: text:

is shaking

and can be.

We can now

re-evaluate important

current long-term

of discourse

means in cognitive different hypertext important readers

how the bring to the text influence their selection strategies; and strategies are needed for different types of text. are largely research implications still for under development of hypertext hypertext or are just on reading systems now will that

terms for readers to get lost

in networked

systems practical needs.

the marketplace,

on the effect

designing

November 1987

Hypertext 87 Papers

117

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