June 13, 2011 by in Technical Documentation
When you stop to think about it, the ability to create hyperlinks in technical guidance and papers is quite amazing. The concept of hypertext was first envisioned in 1945, although substantive development work didn’t take place until the 1960s.
In 1987 Apple released their HyperCard program, the first commercial use of hypertext that I became aware of, and I remember there was quite a buzz about the possibilities. The highly successful computer game Myst was originally developed in HyperCard, and numerous works of electronic literature were developed using hypertext tools. But the most well-known use of hypertext was when it was deployed on the World Wide Web in the early 1990s.
Okay, enough history. As a technical editor and writer, I’m curious about two things:
- When reading a technical paper, do you prefer hyperlinks throughout the text or all lumped together at the end of either a chapter or a document?
- Do you prefer hyperlinks that are completely displayed, regardless of their length, or do you prefer hyperlinked titles or phrases with all the mumbo-jumbo (that’s a technical term ;>) hidden?
I ask the first question because I remember hearing some feedback a few years ago from someone who preferred to not see hyperlinks within the general text of a paper – because they were too distracting. I remember thinking at the time, “Well, just don’t click on them!” But since then I realized they must have been talking about fully spelled-out URLs, not just hyperlinked titles or text.
So that leads us to the second question. I can’t help but think that there are very few – make that very very few – readers who actually “read” hyperlinks and type their letters and numbers one by one into their browser. Accordingly, I think hyperlinking titles or phrases is probably just fine.
If there IS a need for full URLs, it might be best to save them for the end of a chapter or document. But am I missing something, or is there a need AT ALL anymore for fully spelled-out URLs? If you’re reading a printed copy of a document, you’re not sitting at a computer anyway, right? So why would you need to see the URL?
What do you think?