Screens, Research and Hypertext

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On Research

We developed research outputs to fit the shape of books, not the other way around.

An all-too-common view in the research and policy sector is that the IMRAD report (usually in PDF) Just Is the way that such materials are presented — that the writing of such things is timeless, independent of technology. Any attempt to change the report is met with accusations of "dumbing things down." The job of designers and technologists is simply to transfer the thing into the appropriate distribution channels.

How easily we forget the ways in which the medium shapes the message.

To a modern reader, Beowulf is full of long digressions that distract from the plot. But anyone who has ever listened to an American Southerner spin up a good yarn will find Beowulf’s storytelling all too familiar. It’s a story that was shaped by the oral tradition in which it was initially transmitted.

It’s well understood that conventions like standardized spelling, rules for punctuation, even spaces between words are byproducts of the printing press.

Should it be any more surprising that conventions like linear arguments, sequential chapters, footnotes and alphabetized bibliographies are equally products of a particular means of transmission?

For more context

Alphabetization was more-or-less unheard of before the printing press.

What to read next

The entire way that we write is grounded in a linear medium.

Other items of interest

The PDF is the wrong format for the web.

Your text tells a story. Its format tells another.

The Main Thing plus supporting materials approach to research communications may be the wrong model.

Referenced in

The Artifact and the Garden

There are two ways of thinking about research. There's the process—the reading of text, collecting of data, and drawing of links between them. Then there's the outcome, the part where we put new information into the world—information that answers questions that people might be asking.