More Control, But Not Clarity In Non-linear Web Stories

More Control, But Not Clarity In Non-linear Web Stories

Lowrey, Wilson

Non-linear Web stories have a positive effect on the degree of perceived control, a negative effect on the amount of feedback and no significant effect on the degree of perceived credibility.

In recent years there has been a call in the online news industry for greater innovation in the production and presentation of news on the Web.1 Many journalists and scholars say Web news stories should offer more opportunities for readers to interact with journalists,2 should provide readers with greater control over site navigation3 and should offer readers both brief and encyclopedic information.4 Journalism school curricula5 and media industry think tanks such as the Poynter Institute generally advocate such recommendations in courses on the production of non-linear Web news stories. These recommendations serve the financial needs of the news industry, but there are also more altruistic aims. News that is more interactive and “non-linear” should empower readers and bring about a more equal relationship between news media and audiences.6

There is debate over the definition of “non-linearity.” A common assumption is that non-linear stories offer readers control over the sequence of story components. According to theorists of “hypermedia,” non-linearity means that units of information can be read out of order and should be interconnected with hyperlinks.7 Others think non-linear stories must include links to other Web sites,8 while some stress the importance of interactivity and the integration of video and sound. The present study adopts the more narrow definition of nonlinearity. Here the non-linear story is one that is segmented into discrete components that are layered, interconnected with hyperlinks and overlaid with a navigation scheme.

This study has a number of objectives. One, it tests assumptions in the industry that non-linear Web stories benefit readers. Does the non-linear format improve learning of news information? Do audiences find the reading of non-linear text more involving and easier to control? Do readers of non-linear stories provide more feedback? Some recent evidence in the mass communication literature suggests hypermedia do not aid recall, but little research has been conducted on more advanced cognitive processes such as the formulation of feedback. A focus on feedback is also important because increased interaction has been touted as a way to improve relations with increasingly disenchanted news audiences9 and to ensure more open and robust public discussion of issues.10 Finally, the study is an attempt to shed light on the “media logic” of Web news. In other words, the study looks at the degree to which audiences and Web news producers share an understanding of the non-linear format.

Literature Review

Assumptions about the benefits of non-linearity in online journalism have roots in hypertext theory. In the 1960s Theodor Nelson coined the term hypertext and described it as “nonsequential writing,” and as “a series of text chunks connected by links which offer the reader different pathways.”11 Hypertext has been referred to as a “space” in which readers navigate according to their own objectives. Information designers are supposed to establish “landmarks” and “routes” to help readers in their self-driven exploration.12 Readers are not expected to view or read in any pre-determined order, and so clear navigation is considered vital.13

Hypertext theorists argue that hypermedia expands the normal constraints of story telling by opening stories up to connections with other related stories.14 According to Landow, hypertext blurs “all those boundaries that form the running border of… a work.”15 Hypertext theorists say control must ultimately be surrendered to the reader, because the meaning of stories is not controlled by the story producer.16 A common assumption is that the non-linearity of hypertext is natural to the way the human mind works,17 although some hypertext theorists view this assumption as overly simplistic.18

Hypermedia theorists have been criticized for ignoring the context of the reading and viewing experience. How an author chooses to appropriate references in a work is arguably as important as the information in the references, and unguided hyperlinking may obscure such meaning cues.19 In fact, studies have shown that when readers scan selectively and are not required to read in a predetermined fashion, learning can suffer.20

Hypermedia in Education

Some of the most promising advancements in the study of non-linear hypermedia have come from education psychology. Among a number of useful theories, Sweller’s cognitive load theory is especially relevant, Load theory focuses on memory recall and knowledge gain. According to this theory, information overload can put stress on working memory, which leads to cognitive disorientation. This, in turn, causes problems for the development of long-term memory.21 Load theory has been applied to studies of the design of learning material. Researchers have found that the mental cost of managing different sources of information is high for those who are not expert in the information area.22 Hypermedia can lower this cost by breaking information into smaller units, integrating these units through hyperlinks, clearly describing topic choices and making selection of relevant information easier.23

However a confusing navigational structure can limit readers’ abilities to recall and learn information.24 Increased disorientation resulting from poor navigation can weaken readers’ perceived control and their expectations of information gain, each of which can obstruct cognitive processing.25 However studies on the effects of perceived control on learning have shown mixed results. Studies have found that students judge hypermedia instruction more favorably if they think they have a high degree of control over the reading experience,26 but increased control does not necessarily aid learning.27

Hypermedia in Journalism

Some research on online news has focused on presentation of overall site format28 and on online searching,29 but little research has focused on the format of individual news stories. There are a few exceptions, including Fredin’s proposed prototype for a “hyperstory .”30 A hyperstory is a network of interlinked computer files from which readers make choices and construct their own news “metastories.” According to Fredin, hyperstories should make readers more active and involved. For hyperstories to be effective, Fredin said they must provide readers with clearly described layers of information from which to choose “first a little, and then a lot.” This layering of information helps to keep readers from having an overloaded working memory. Vargo et al., also found evidence of the importance of layering. In their study, readers reported being more comfortable pursuing links to full stories when the links were in the form of short, informative abstracts.31

Eveland and Dunwoody have conducted several studies of Web formats and learning. In one study they compared a print version of a news story with linear and non-linear Web versions of the same story and found no significant differences in subjects’ ability to recall story information.32 In a separate study these researchers found that Web-based stories increased the likelihood that readers would scan stories selectively. This in turn led to reduced learning.33 In a study of Internet news browsing, Fredin and David found that the optimum online experience involves interactions that are not so complex as to confuse the reader, but not so simple and obvious as to become tedious. Readers should have the ability to exercise control over the experience of using the Web. They said the reading of Web stories should be a changing, even sometimes surprising, experience that reassures that goals will ultimately be reached.34


Whereas industry supporters and many hypertext theorists assume nonlinear online media increase reader involvement and understanding, studies of the effects of non-linear reading material show that the relationship is tenuous and conditional. It is not yet clear that news producers and readers have a shared understanding of the non-linear format.

As mentioned before, non-linear stories offer no particular order but instead provide readers with clearly defined and comparable ways to begin reading stories. Rather than story components being arranged in a cause-and-effect sequence, in non-linear stories components may be compared and cross-linked with others.35 It should also be mentioned that non-linearity does not necessarily include (or exclude) use of audio and video. Also, in this study it is assumed that linear stories encourage rather than dictate a linear reading pattern. Actual use is impossible to control. For example, books have a linear structure, but readers are at least as likely to skim and search for certain paragraphs as to read from beginning to end.

The premise of the “media logic” thesis sheds light on the relationship between media format and audience understanding of the format.36 According to this idea, different media formats have different logics, or norms and rules, that are used by audiences and media producers to make sense of media content. Media producers rely on these formats to reduce uncertainty in decision-making – they represent “tried and true” ways to communicate to audiences. Audiences rely on these formats to sort information, distinguish relevancy and make judgments. For example, the norms of modern Western newspaper layout dictate that important stories should have large headlines and play above the fold because readers are assumed to be harried “scanners” rather than thorough readers. News content that is presented outside of the expected format is less likely to be seen as legitimate.

Conventions for news format on the Web are still taking shape. Audience preferences and patterns of use are unclear, and the corresponding professional and organizational routines are in transition. Ideally, the conventions for Web production would make material easier to understand, but it is not clear that non-linear news presentation accomplishes this. Cognitive load theory from education psychology may be helpful in assessing the degree of fit between non-linear formats and the way audiences think about and use online news.

Cognitive load theory suggests that learning occurs only when individuals are able to store “schemas” in long-term memory.37 Schemas, or mental constructs that categorize problems together with solutions, can be called into working memory to make mental processing easier. According to Sweller, information design that causes individuals to direct cognitive resources away from schema formation causes dysfunctional “cognitive load” that overwhelms working memory and gets in the way of learning.

According to load theory, information designers should group or “chunk” information in smaller portions so working memory is not overloaded and information can be learned (i.e., stored in long-term memory). Designers should also integrate chunks of information through clearly defined and designed hyperlinks. In this way, readers do not have to waste mental resources searching for the connections between related areas of news content.38 The non-linear news story format offers both of these features. Though prior research results are mixed as to whether non-linearity hinders or aids learning,39 within the framework of load theory, it is reasonable to expect that news stories created in non-linear formats should create less cognitive load and aid readers’ efforts to learn from stories.


Readers of non-linear Web stories will demonstrate significantly greater knowledge acquisition than will readers of linear Web stories.

Research on hypertext learning shows that non-linearity increases the degree to which readers believe they have control. The concept of control is defined in this study as having choices and having the ability to pursue choices and their outcomes successfully. Readers can more easily choose, mix and connect units of information to put together their own story. The information is not bound to someone else’s idea of what the story structure should be.


Readers of non-linear Web stories will have significantly greater control over the reading experience than will readers of linear Web stories.

Fredin and David suggest that the more readers “lose themselves” in the flow of the reading process, the more cognitive processing is aided.40 High reader involvement is a state in which keen interest in story content develops with little effort. Non-linear Web stories offer greater opportunity for involvement than do linear stories because greater ease of access to information channels through cross-linking and layering strengthens the perception that the information sought may be “just around the corner.” Heightened expectations and activity in the reading process lead to an increased sense of involvement.


Readers of non-linear Web stories will have a significantly higher level of involvement in the reading experience than will readers of linear Web stories.

Finally, two issues are raised that are particularly relevant to the relationship between journalists and audiences – feedback and credibility. First, there is a perception or hope by some journalists that non-linear stories will bring down the walls and lead to a greater understanding between audiences and journalists.41 Some see the possibility that non-linear formats will encourage audiences to be more responsive.42 Readers should be in a more engaged and involved state, which may lead to seeking further involvement with news producers. Also, as non-linear formats should aid the construction of schema, readers should be more able to conceptualize and articulate feedback – particularly feedback about the content of news stories (as opposed to only navigation and design).


Readers of non-linear news stories are more likely to provide more feedback than are readers of linear news stories.


Readers of non-linear Web stories are more likely to provide feedback that focuses on the substance of the Web’s story’s message than are readers of linear Web stories.

Second, the effect of linearity on story credibility will be examined. Journalism scholars have compared the levels of credibility across different types of media (TV, radio, print and the Web). In general, television news has traditionally been found to be most credible, followed by print news, although this varies by audience demographics. With the inclusion of online news, results have been mixed. But as readers have become more accustomed to obtaining news information on the Web, online news accounts have begun to fare better in terms of perceived credibility.43 It may be that, as the non-linear format becomes more familiar, online news content is perceived as more legitimate. Cognitive theories of learning offer little guidance for predicting the relationship between linearity and credibility, and therefore a research question will be asked instead of a hypothesis.


What is the relationship, if any, between the linearity of format of the Web story and the degree of perceived credibility by readers?


An experiment was conducted to compare the effects of non-linear and linear Web news stories. Seventy college students were recruited to be experimental subjects. Students were mostly upper class communication majors. Ages ranged from 19 to 52, but 92% of the participants were age 22 or under. After gaining consent for their participation with an incentive of extra credit, students were randomly assigned to two groups, one for each of two experimental conditions.

For the two conditions, two versions of a Web story were created and loaded onto the Web.44 The first story was created with a linear structure, and the other was created with a non-linear structure. Stories contained identical text, photos and graphics, and graphics and photos were sized the same. The non-linear story was segmented into four different topics and was overlaid with a navigational scheme. Links to each of the four topics were available in a vertical frame on the left side of each page. In addition, links that allowed readers to link to other pages within the site were embedded within story content. None of the links sent readers to other Web sites-this constraint was put in place so that readers of the linear and non-linear sites would have the same amount of content. The non-linear site contained a home page that presented the story headline, a magazine-style extended subhead and a photographic image representative of the site’s theme.

In contrast, the linear version of the story consisted of one page, with a headline at the top, extended subhead below it, and story text in a single column directly below this. Photos and graphics were indented into the text at points where story content reflected graphic content. The format was intended to reflect the format of the typical “repurposed” news story used routinely by newspaper Web sites. Each of the two story versions offered students an opportunity to provide feedback electronically to the author of the Web site, the researcher. The theme of the story-cloning-was not particularly time sensitive and was not related to topics of local interest.

In two of the sessions, subjects were exposed to only non-linear stories, and in the other two sessions, subjects were exposed to only linear stories. Each subject was seated at a computer and instructed to type in a url and load a version of the Web story. For each experimental condition students were given 15 minutes to read the story. At the end of the 15 minutes students were told to navigate to a feedback page and provide at least three items of feedback to the Web story writer by typing comments in the on-screen dialogue box and submitting the feedback electronically. Feedback responses were received in the researcher’s e-mail. Students were given 15 minutes to revisit the site and provide feedback. After exposure, students were given a pencil-and-paper questionnaire that assessed perceived control, involvement, credibility and knowledge acquisition.

Measures of Dependent Variables

Several questions were asked to assess subjects’ knowledge acquisition or ability to recall content from the story. Questions asked about the history of cloning, legal and ethical aspects of cloning and the cloning process. Subjects were scored a “2” if they answered the question correctly and a “1” if the answer was incorrect. Respondents were also asked on a three-point scale how confident they were in their response. Responses were then scored again, based on a combination of answers to questions and confidence levels, resulting in a measure with a four-point scale. Data from the five questions were summed. The mean was 3.08, and the standard deviation was .61.

Degree of control was measured by asking subjects on a five-point scale if they agreed that it was easy to go to the parts of the story that most interested them. These measures reflect the definition of control as having choices and the ability to pursue them successfully. The mean was 4.00, and the standard deviation was 1.03. Degree of reader involvement45 was measured by three questions, each on a five-point scale. Subjects were asked if they felt involved with the story’s content while reading, if they thought it was fun reading the story and if they found they wanted to know more about the topic after reading the story. These three measures were tested for inter-item reliability, and the alpha was .72. An alpha level of at least .70 indicates measures are alike enough to be combined into one variable. The three measures were therefore averaged together. The mean was 3.81, and the standard deviation was .73.

To test hypotheses 4 and 5, subjects were asked to submit at least three items of feedback to the Web site’s creator. A lower limit was put on number of responses to ensure sufficient response for measuring types of feedback. Most feedback items consisted of a sentence or two. Once responses were collected, the researcher sorted items into two categories: items commenting on message content and items commenting on site usability (i.e., navigation, ease of use and visual design). Two undergraduate assistants were given definitions of these two categories and asked to sort the items, as well. There was disagreement over how to categorize 12 of the items, and these were excluded, leaving 324 feedback items in all. The mean number of summed responses was 4.17, and the standard deviation was 1.38. The mean percent of feedback concerned with site content (as opposed to navigation or design) was .50 with a standard deviation of .33.

Degree of credibility was measured by asking subjects if they agreed the story was believable, accurate and complete.46 Each of these three questions was measured on a five-point scale (1=strongly disagree, 5=strongly agree). These three measures had an alpha of .70 and were averaged to create a scaled measure of credibility (mean = 3.90, standard deviation = .60).


A statistical test called a two-group Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) was performed in order to test the relationship of story linearity to the six dependent variables together. Basically, a MANOVA tells us whether all these factors from the hypotheses, when tested as a group, prove to be significantly different for readers of the linear story vs. readers of the non-linear story. If the MANOVA results show that there are significant differences, we can say that giving a news story a non-linear format makes an overall difference to readers. According to the MANOVA, story linearity did have a significant effect on all six dependent variables when they were tested as a group, [F (6,64) = 6.68, p

Though MANOVAs test all dependent variables together, it is important to look at the way story linearity affects each of the hypothesized factors individually. Univariate tests show that degree of linearity has a significant effect on degree of control [F (1,69) = 14.44, p

Readers of the non-linear story were no more successful than were readers of the linear story at recalling story information, and therefore hypothesis 1 was not supported. This is the case for the confidence scale as well as for the actual number of correct answers (linear mean = 5.0, non-linear mean = 4.89). This finding for recall and the findings on feedback contradict cognitive load theory. It seems that the layering, segmenting and cross-referencing of story information do not help readers mentally process information. Previous studies have suggested a possible explanation for this finding-that confusing navigation gets in the way of cognitive processing. However, this was apparently not a factor in the present study. Subjects in each treatment group were asked if they “felt lost” while reading their stories and if reading the story was “easy,” and there was no significant difference between the groups on these questions.

Hypotheses 3 also received no support, as readers of the non-linear story were no more likely than readers of the linear story to feel involved in the reading experience. Finally, perceived credibility was also unaffected by story linearity. Respondents in both groups ranked their stories as fairly high in accuracy, believability and completeness. Findings are consistent with ambiguous findings from previous studies on credibility in Web-based media.


Non-linearity has a positive effect on degree of perceived control, a negative effect on amount and nature of feedback and no significant effect on degree of perceived credibility, reader involvement or knowledge acquisition. It does not appear that audiences yet grasp the media logic of the non-linear story format. These findings sound a cautionary note to online journalists and to online journalism instructors who have unquestioningly endorsed non-linear formats for Web-based news stories.

The finding that non-linearity leads to greater control supports similar findings in the education literature and supports expectations by journalists and journalism researchers that hypertext formats can empower readers. However, the literature suggests increased perception of control should lead to a greater ability to learn from stories-and that was not the case here. One possible explanation is that readers became disoriented by the navigation demands of the non-linear story. This confusion could have drained away cognitive resources needed to process story information. This sounds likely, except for the fact that readers reported that they did not “feel lost” while using the site. Another possible explanation is that, though readers feel in control over the non-linear story, they may be selectively scanning. As Eveland and Dunwoody found,47 selective scanning can hinder learning – readers who scan may miss the cues that the writer provides “between the facts” in the traditional linear news narrative.

Readers of the non-linear story focused their feedback on issues of navigation, usability and visual format to a greater degree than did readers of the linear story, and readers of the linear story focused on message content to a greater degree. The complex mental process of formulating feedback may be especially susceptible to the cognitive load that comes from dealing with the non-linear navigation and format. This implies the use of non-linear formats to read news does not yet come second nature to readers. It seems online journalists should incorporate technical bells and whistles only if these enhance the meaning and context of the story. Otherwise they risk distracting readers from the news message.

Some hypertext theorists say the non-linear message structure should benefit cognitive processing of information because the mind naturally works in a non-linear way. Findings here challenge this assumption. The media logic of Web story formats may be more important to cognitive processing than inherent qualities of story linearity, such as chunking and cross-referencing. In other words, the real issue may not be the structural characteristics of the non-linear story itself, but rather the degree to which readers can make sense of story content when it is viewed from within a structure that is less familiar. Traditionally, news has been presented in a linear way, and therefore readers are likely used to the linear format.

It may be that effects on dependent variables such as level of involvement would have been stronger if links to other Web sites had been provided. Perhaps such access would have prompted stronger feedback and an even greater perception of control. Also, it may have been informative to have recorded time spent on the reading as a dependent or mediating variable, rather than trying to control this variable. Subsequent studies should explore effects of non-linearity on “time spent reading,” especially if the definition of non-linearity is expanded to include linking to other Web sites.

As with any study using a lab setting, there was likely some artificiality in the results. The contrived context within which subjects read and responded to the stories could have affected the feedback provided. Also, ability to generalize the findings is limited by the nature of the sample, which consisted almost entirely of undergraduate senior communication students. However, the nature of the sample cuts two ways. On one hand, communication students are as a group relatively familiar with Web formats, in comparison to the general population. The fact that navigation structure did not come second nature to these readers suggests this would be the case for most of the population. On the other hand, younger audiences may be more likely to focus on format and presentation than on content.

Overall, results here provide little support for the notion held by some media professionals and hyptertext theorists that non-linear formats naturally benefit audiences. It appears non-linear story-telling offers no aid to recall and may actually hinder feedback. Findings suggest media educators should be cautious and reflective in teaching the techniques of “chunking,” “layering” and associative linking in the production of Web news. Of course, shared understanding of formats evolves, and what is confusing or difficult today may be more readily understood in the near future. Also, more needs to be known about how the impact of non-linearity might vary across such demographic factors as age and education. Educators should keep abreast of such changes by following research on media format and information processing.

Media professionals should also carefully assess audience reaction to formats and not uncritically adopt the non-linear format as a professional routine. This is a real concern as news workers often produce their own convenient images of the audience rather than draw on hard evidence to make decisions about audience preferences.48 However there is nothing wrong with experimentation with media formats, such as the non-linear Web story. Such experimentation represents a necessary and productive step in the creation of new logics for new types of media.


1. See for example, Terry Anzur, “Broadcast News: The Web’s Beached Whale,” Online Journalism Review, 20 March 2001, (24 May 2003); J.D. Lasica,” After the Meltdown: Now that We’ve Hit Bottom, Where Do We Go From Here?” Online Journalism Review, 25 March 2002 (24 May 2003); Steve Outing “Are Days of Innovation Waning For Online News?/’ Editor and Publisher, 11 October 2000 (24 May 2003); Sylvia Chan-Olmsted and jung Suk Park, “From On-Air to Online World: Examining the Content and Structures of Broadcast TV Stations’ Web Sites,” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 77, no. 2 (summer 2000): 321-339.

2. Jerry Lanson, “It’s Time to Make Web an Equal Partner,” Online Journalism Review, August 2000,

(24 May 2003); Vincent Kiernan and Mark Levy, “Competition Among Broadcast-Related Web Sites,” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 93, no. 2 (1999): 271-279; Carol Rich, Creating Online Media: A Guide to Researching, Writing and Design on the Internet (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999); Louisa Ha and E. Lincoln James, “Interactivity Reexamined: A Baseline Analysis of Early Business Web Sites,” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 42, no. 4 (fall 1998): 456-473.

3. Jakob Nielsen, Multimedia and Hypertext: The Internet and Beyond (San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann, 1995); Lanson, “It’s Time to Make Web an Equal Partner”; Chip Scanlan, “The Web and the Future of Writing,” The Poynter Institute, 21 june 2000, (24 May 2003); Wilson Lowrey, “From Map to Machine: Conceptualizing and Designing News on the Net,” Newspaper Research Journal 20, no. 4 (fall 1999): 15-27.

4. Lanson, “It’s Time to Make Web an Equal Partner”; Scanlan, “The Web and the Future of Writing”; Mario Garcia, Redesigning Print for the Web (Indianapolis: Hayden Books, 1998).

5. Timothy Garrand, Writing for Multimedia and the Web (Oxford: Focal Press, 2001); Rich, Creating Online Media; Robert Huesca, “Reinventing Journalism Curricula for the Electronic Environment,” Journalism and Mass Communication Educator 55, no. 2 (summer 2000): 4-15.

6. Tanjev Schultz, “Mass Media and the Concept of Interactivity: An Exploratory Study of Online Forums and Reader Email,” Media, Culture and Society 22, no. 2 (March 2000): 205-221; Lanson, “It’s Time to Make Web an Equal Partner”; Jeffery B. Abramson, F. Christopher Arterton and Gary R. Orren, The Electronic Commonwealth. The Impact of New Media Technologies on Democratic Politics (New York, Basic Books, 1988); ju liet Musso and Christopher Weare, “Designing Web Technologies For Local Governance Reform: Good Management Or Good Democracy?” Political Communication 17, no. 1 (January- March 2000): 1-18.

7. see for example, Theodor Nelson, Literary Machines (Sausalito, CA: Mindful Press, 1993); Eric Esperet, “Notes on Hypertext, Cognition and Language,” in Hypertext and Cognition, eds. JeanFrancois Rouet, et al. (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1996), 149-156.

8. see for example, George P. Landow, Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).

9. Lanson, “It’s Time to Make Web an Equal Partner.”

10. see for example, Tanjev Schultz, “Mass Media and the Concept of Interactivity.”

11. Landow, Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, 4.

12. Nielsen, Multimedia and Hypertext; Jean-Francois Rouet and Jarmo J. Levonen (1996) “Studying and Learning with Hypertext: Empirical Studies and their Implications,” in Hypertext and Cognition, eds. Jean-Francois, et al. (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1996), 9-24.

13. John H. Curry et al., “Specified Learning Goals and their Effect on Learners’ Representations of a Hypertext Reading Environment,” International Journal of Instructional Media 26, no. 1 (March 1999): 43-51.

14. Jay Bolter, Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext and the History of Writing (Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991).

15. Landow, Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, 61.

16. Janet Horowitz Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (New York: The Free Press, 1997); Landow, Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology; Bolter, Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext and the History of Writing.

17. David J. Jonassen, “Designing Structured Hypertext and Structuring Access to Hypertext,” Educational Technology 28, no. 11 (November 1988): 13-16.

18. Andrew Dillon, “Myths, Misconceptions, and an Alternative Perspective on Information Usage and the Electronic Medium” in Hypertext and Cognition, eds. Jean-Francois Rouete,et al. (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1996), 25-42.

19. David S. Miall, “Trivializing or Liberating? The Limitations of Hypertext Theorizing” Mosaic 32, no. 2 (June 1999): 157-171.

20. William P. Eveland and Sharon Dunwoody, “An Investigation of Elaboration and Selective Scanning as Mediators of Learning from the Web versus Print,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 46, no. 1 (March 2002): 34-53.

21. Joseph Sweller, “Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning,” Cognitive Science 12 , issue no. (April-June 1988): 257-285.

22. S.H. Gray, “Using Protocol Analysis and Drawing to Study Mental Model Construction During Hypertext Navigation,” International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 2, no. 4 (1990): 359-377.

23. Graham Cooper “Cognitive load theory as an aid for instructional design,” Australian Journal of Educational Technology 6, no. 2 (summer 1990) (24 May 2003); John Sweller, Paul Chandler, Paul Tierney and Martin Cooper, “Cognitive load as a factor in the structuring of technical material,” Journal of Experimental Psychology 119, no. 2 (June 1990): 176-192.

24. Dale S. Niederhauser, et al, “The Influence of Cognitive Load on Learning from Hypertext,” Journal of Educational Computing Research 23, no. 3 (2000): 237-255; M. Anne Britt, Jean-Francois Rouet and Charles A. Perfetti, “Using Hypertext to Study and Reason about Historical Evidence,” in Hypertext and Cognition, eds. Jean-Francois Rouet, Jarmo J. Levonen, Andrew Dillon and Rand J. Spiro (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1996), 43-72; Cliff McKnight, Andrew Dillon and John Richardson, “A Comparison of Linear and Hypertext Formats in Information Retrieval,” in Hypertext, the State of Art, eds. Ray McAleese and Catherine Green, (Oxford, England: Intellect Books, 1990), 10-19.

25. Diana Dee-Lucas, D. and Jill H. Larkin, “Learning from Electronic Texts: Effects of Interactive Overviews for Information Access,” Cognition and Instruction, 13, no. 3 (1995): 431-468.

26. Robert Hannafin and Howard Sullivan, “Preferences and learner control over amount of instruction,” Journal of Educational Psychology 88, no. 1 (March 1996): 162-173; Gary Morrison, Steve Ross and Walter Baldwin, “Learner control of context and instructional support in learning elementary school mathematics,” Educational Technology Research and Development 40, no. 1 (1992): 5-13.

27. D’Arcy Becker and Margaret Dwyer, “Using Hypermedia to Provide Learner Control,” Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia 3, no. 2 (summer 1994): 155-172.

28. David Tewksbury and Scott L. Althaus, “Differences in Knowledge Acquisition among Readers of the Paper and Online Versions of a National Newspaper,” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 77, no. 3 (autumn 2000): 457-479.

29. Eric Fredin and Prabu David, “Browsing and the Hypermedia Interaction Cycle: A Model of Self-efficacy and Goal Dynamics,” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 75, no. 1 (spring 1998): 35-54.

30. Eric Fredin, “Rethinking the News Story for the Internet: Hyperstory Prototypes and a Model of the User,” Journalism and Communication Monographs 163. (September 1997).

31. Karen Vargo, et al., “How readers’ respond to digital news stories in layers and links,” Newspaper Research Journal 21, no. 2 (spring 2000): 40-54.

32. William P. Eveland and Sharon Dunwoody, “User Control and Structural Isomorphism or Disorientation and Cognitive Load? Learning from the Web versus Print,” Communication Research, 28 (February 2001): 48-78;

33. Eveland and Dunwoody, “An Investigation of Elaboration and Selective Scanning.”

34. Fredin and David, “Browsing and the Hypermedia Interaction Cycle.”

35. Rouet and Levonen, “Studying and Learning with Hypertext.”

36. David L. Altheide and Robert P. Snow, Media Logic (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1979); Denis McQuail, Mass Communication Theory (London: Sage Publications, 2000).

37. George A. Miller, ‘The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information’, Psychological Review 63, no. 2 (April 1956): 81-97.

38. Cooper, “Cognitive load theory as an aid for instructional design”; Graham Cooper, “Research into Cognitive Load Theory and Instructional Design,” 1990 (24 May 2003).

39. see for example, Eveland and Dunwoody, “An Investigation of Elaboration and Selective Scanning”; Sweller, Chandler, Tierney and Cooper, “Cognitive Load as a Factor in the Structuring of Technical Material”; Becker and Dwyer, “Using Hypermedia to Provide Learner Control.”

40. Fredin and David, “Browsing and the Hypermedia Interaction Cycle.”

41. Lanson, “It’s Time to Make Web an Equal Partner.”

42. Schultz, “Mass Media and the Concept of Interactivity.”

43. Andrew }. Flanagin and Miriam }. Metzger, “Perceptions of Internet Information Credibility”; Thomas}. Johnson and Barbara K. Kaye, “Using is Believing: The Influence of Reliance on the Credibility of Online Political Information among Politically Interested Internet Users,” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 77, no. 4 (winter 2000): 865-879; “The Internet News Audience Goes Ordinary,” Pew Research Center, 14 January 1999

URL (consulted Jan. 2003): (24 May 2003).

44. The URL for the linear version of the cloning Web site is

The URL for the non-linear version of the site is

45. Because of the newness of the Control and Involvement measures, it was decided that a post hoc comparison of these measures with a straight-forward measure of “control” and with a traditional scale measure of “personal involvement” from the advertising literature would add to their validity. Therefore, after the experiment had been conducted, 30 students were recruited from two undergraduate Communication courses, were exposed to both versions of the experimental Web sites, and were tested on both the original and new measures of Control and Involvement. Thenew control measure was “I felt like I was in control of the reading process while reading this story.” The new involvement measure was a scale that summed 20 bi-polar items (alpha = .91) from the Personal Involvement Inventory (Judith L. Zaichowsky, “Measuring the Involvement Construct,” Journal of Consumer Research 12, no. 3 (December 1985): 341-352). The original Involvement measure correlated at .668 with the new post hoc control measure, and the original involvement scale correlated at .527 with the new Involvement scale, thus adding validity to the measures used in the experiment.

46. Flanagin and Metzger, “Perceptions of Internet Information Credibility.”

47. Eveland and Dunwoody, “An Investigation of Elaboration and Selective Scanning.”

48. McQuail, “Mass Communication Theory”; John Ryan and Richard Peterson, “The Product Image: The Fate of Country Music Song Writing” in Individuals in Mass Media Organizations, eds. James Ettema and D. Charles Whitney (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1982), 11-32.

Lowrey is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at the University of Alabama.

Copyright Newspaper Research Journal, Department of Journalism, University of Memphis Spring 2004

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