A HyperReference is a reference work that is not meant to be read from beginning to end, but from wherever you start to wherever that leads you. In fact there is no particular reason for a HyperReference to have a beginning or end, or a ``table of contents'' specifying the sequence in which its components are meant to be read, because there is no such intended sequence. It is best approached from its index, or (better yet) from a search engine.

Why do it this way? Because, if you think about it, the whole idea of a reference work is that you suddenly conceive a need to know about something in particular, and so you go look it up. When was the last time you started reading a reference book (for example a user's manual) from the front page and continued through to the last page? Certainly not when you were trying to find the answer to a specific question! This is the difference between a reference work and a teaching text: the latter may have valid pedagogical reasons for leading the student through its contents in a specific sequence, but this intention is lost on the spontaneously curious.

I am assuming that most people who visit a Web site are, in fact, driven by either spontaneous curiosity or some practical need to know a particular thing, which they would like to get to in the most efficient and convenient way possible. Hence the HyperReference, which is meant to be used as follows:

  1. Go to the index and find a keyword that suggests the subject in which you are interested; or (better yet) use a search engine provided with the HyperReference to find topics related to a keyword (or words) you enter. When you find a likely topic, click on it!
  2. When you arrive at the page containing the linked information, see if it satisfies your curiosity. If not, try step 1 again. If it is the right subject but you are having trouble following the discussion because of unfamiliar terminology or concepts, click on the embedded hyperlinks in the text that will lead you to explanations of those terms or concepts.
  3. Repeat step 2 as many times as needed to achieve full satisfaction, or until you get bored and go away. (Curiosity is a powerful motivator, but it can get used up.)
Obviously this will only work when the HyperReference in question contains a good enough index (or search engine) and has adequate embedded hyperlinks on every page to ensure that you get to what you need in a few steps. This is not easy to create! The HyperReference you are using now may not have reached a satisfactory level yet, in which case you will be experiencing some frustration. Please take it out on the author, but in a constructive way: send an e-mail (using the mailto link on the Web page) suggesting any specific improvements or changes that would make it work better for you. Naturally, anti-testimonials like, ``This sucks!'' are not much help and will just get chucked out with the trash. But if you really want to see things get better, make some suggestions!
Jess H. Brewer
Last modified: Wed Nov 26 17:31:22 EST