Hypertext Genres

Hypertext forms and hypertext functions are important constitutents of hypertexts genres, but they alone are not enough to constitute genres in the more specific meaning of the term as espoused by genre theorists such as Bazerman and.Miller.

Miller rejects the common notion that a genre is a recurrent pattern of forms: Rather, genre is a recurrent pattern of responses to social situations. These situations are not static aspects of an "absolute" external reality; as simpler notions of "the rhetorical situation" might suggest. Rather, they are responses to situations which social actors perceive as being similar and requiring similar responses. Not all people would agree on which situations are sufficiently similar to require similar rhetorical responses, but enough agreements can be built to allow the formation of discourse communities who share somewhat similar views of what situation calls for what response when.

Bazerman extends this argument from production of texts to their interpretation: "These regularities encompass when and how one would approach a test tube or a colleage, how one would go about reading a text, as well as how one would draw a diagram or frame an argument ("Shaping" 314). By this definition, genres are sets of shared expectations among readers and writers. By reading formal cues, readers come to know what to expect from a given text, what situation it is likely a response to, and thereby engage certain strategies of reading and not others.

But genres form gradually and in an unstable manner, always being challenged by new situations or new writiers who perceive a need to try a different form on for size, either because they perceive a different situation or think that they can provide a better type of response to a situation.

Hypertext is not necessarily a response to a new social situation. However, new technologies have allowed us to create new forms that will offer new responses to old situations, inevitably changing the situations in themselves in the process.

The broad categories of hypertext that I have been suggesting--fiction, argument, information--are clearly too coarse to tell us very much. We need to know what shapes of text will emerge to deal with specific functions. Some of these, such as on-line documentation, have already become relatively stable. Readers know roughly how writers are likely to respond to their need for certain types of information, and can navigate the nodes of advise with some assurance. Other forms, particularly the more argumentative ones that I am discussing here, are still forming around us.

If we believe, with Bazerman ("Powerful Words,") that we must understand these genres in order to avoid being unconciously co-opted by them, then rhetorical analysis has its work cut out for it.


Is Hypertext Formless? An elaboration of the importance of form plus some self-criticism of my suggestion that hypertext lacks form because it lacks linearity.
Hypertext Rhetorical Forms Some preliminary speculations on what specific principles might guide hypertext form.
Kolb's List of Hypertext Forms
A list from Kolb's "Socrates in the Labyrynth."
December on HT Characteristics and Qualities A list from December's "Living in Hypertext."
Hypertext Rhetorical Functions A discussion of how hypertext forms grow out of different hypertext functions.
Teaching Hypertext Genres An introduction to the idea of teaching hypertext as a genre.
Bazerman on Rhetorical Analyses of Genres An extended quotation from Bazerman.
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