Nick Carr, quoted by the Readablity folks here, talks about hyperlinks as distractions – part of how the web screws up our brains. I was just browsing (couldn’t possibly read this one from cover to cover) Nentwich (2003) and ran across the section, “Better match of traditional reading habits”. In this portion of the book, the author is talking about the impacts of ICTs, specifically hyperlinked texts, in how scientists deal with information. I’ll now quote directly from page 297:
It is a truism that academics seldom read articles (not to speak about books from the first to the last paragraph, that is, literally “linearly.” What they do is the following:
Instead a particular set of interest will lead a reader to an index, then to the selection of an item in print, then (perhaps) to a graphic, or to a cross-referenced item, back to the index, to a different source text and so on. (McHoul and Roe, 1996, p.9)
There are certainly lots of articles on how scientists look at the authors, title, abstract, then maybe the tables and images, before reading the text. And the text isn’t read linearly either (update – citation for this Bazerman, 1985). For my own reading of scholarly works, the most helpful platforms allow you to hover over the in text citation to preview the full citation so you don’t have to flip back and forth. My argument – and I’m certainly not a cognitive psychologist, is that hyperlinks in articles are helpful – they help you judge what you’re reading by providing context and authority through citation.
There’s a difference, too, in immersive reading of fiction or probably essays in the humanities, and reading for content, meaning, and utility in the sciences.
Now back to my regularly scheduled dissertation proposal typing
Nentwich, M. (2003). Cyberscience : research in the age of the internet. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press.
Bazerman, C. (1985). Physicists Reading Physics: Schema-Laden Purposes and Purpose-Laden Schema. Written Communication, 2(1), 3-23. doi:10.1177/0741088385002001001 (this is just one of many citations to support not reading linearly)