Mapping Versus Outlining: Composing in Hypertext

Mapping is a more efficient tool for invention than outlining for digital composition. Because the discrete elements that make up a digital composition do not unfold sequentially, Discourse Community Maps or Mind Maps help students anticipate final design goals of a hypertext essay or Domain site. Whether written by hand or with a tool such as mindmeister or, mapping encourages students to generate open ended, networked writing strategies. Further, mapping allows for students to visualize and then make the most of the connections between the communities to which they belong.

As a pre-writing or invention exercise for an independent hypertext or semester long web writing and research sequence, you may want to work through a version of the following exercises. Please note either or both exercises are easy to adapt to fit the specific needs of your course:

Mapping a Community of Interest/Mapping Your Networked Self

This exercise is designed to help students invent topics for a single hypertext essay or topics that will guide their websites and research for the entire semester. Students should emerge from the exercise with a topic that is both personally relevant and connected to larger social, political, cultural, etc. issues.

  • Give students blank sheets of paper
  • For 5-10 minutes, ask students to free write names of all the communities of interest to which they belong. Have them spread the names of their communities across the page instead of listing them in a hierarchy.
  • Once the allotted time has expired and students have generated 20-30 communities, give them 5 more minutes to draw lines between communities that overlap or have common interests/purpose.
  • Once students have marked connections between communities with shared interests, give them 5 more minutes to mark potential site of conflict.
  • Once students have finished mapping, generate a class discussion of findings. You may want to ask, what points of intersection in your mind map most surprised you? If you participate in communities with rival ideologies, how do you navigate those differences? What points of contact would you like to pursue father?
  • Following the discussion of findings, ask students to freewrite for 5 minutes on how they navigate participating in two or more communities with rival interests.
  • When the class reconvenes for another round of discussion, guide students to make connections among the communities to which they belong and bigger, more abstract communities such as state, nation, university, gender, etc. To help guide this stage of the discussion, ask questions such as, who are the stakeholders in the conflict you have uncovered? Who benefits from the conflict?
  • You may have one student write his or her short write on the board or project it onto a Googledoc and then have that student solicit feedback from the rest of the class. The use that one short write as a jumping off point for thinking through the connections between the local and global in other student texts.
  • Finally, ask students to revise their freewrite to include connections between their personal issue and its global resonances.
  • Student should emerge from the activity with a visual representation of the connections and conflicts that exist within in their networked selves, and a few rough paragraphs shaping those connections through an expository or narrative frame.
  • The move from local to global should help generate research questions/goals, and safeguard against cliché or superficial presentations of both.

Mapping Your Domain (Paper Mock-ups)

This exercise can follow from the one above or stand-alone, and works best as a prewriting/invention exercise for students new to web/digital composition. At the end of the exercise, students will have produced a 12-16 page hand written hypertext on 3“x5” cards or 8.5“x5.5” pages. The goal of this assignment is get students to draft a networked, non-linear representation of their websites free from the potential restraints and anxieties that may come from just jumping into a web writer and building a site for the very first time.

  • Have students choose a topic. If you worked through the above assignment, then suggest they elaborate on the topics generated in class or invent a new topic along similar lines.
  • Tell students, “please do not outline and please do not compose in Word.” To achieve the outcome goals for this assignment, student may not compose a hierarchical outline and then convert it to a hypertext, nor may they compose the text in Word.
  • Student should begin the project with the “splash page” or “home page.” What features does a successful homepage possess? By what criteria is success determined? The “splash/home” page should include a “good” headline, a body of text that supports that headline, and at least 3 in-text links in the 150 words of supporting text.
  • What three pages do the in-text links in the supporting paragraph on the home page promise? Have students draw/design the 3 pages promised by the in-text links on the first page. These 3 destination pages must also contain 100-150 words of copy and 3 links each to a minimum of 9 destination pages. Students may stop a the third level of hypertext, or continue according to class needs.
  • Once students have created a minimum of 13 pages on small pieces of paper, have them test their site. Do the links they have written make sense? If the links do not make sense, what steps must be taken to resolve the problems?
  • When the Domain map works entirely on paper, then have students revise the entire site into a Word document. Encourage them to include images, and begin thinking though a rough sense of layout for their sites.
  • Have students bring their paper mock-ups to class. You may want them to share with you and/or their peers the digital document before class. Allow class time for students to explain their overall concepts and the choices that guided their mock-ups. Guide the discussion with questions such as what worked and what did not, what did you uncover, what might you do differently during digital composition?
  • Begin composing webtexts by asking students to revise their paper mock-ups into their websites. This task can take place in-class with the support of Domain faculty.

In the first appendix to her book, Beaufort adapts a “Discourse Community Map” from Scenes of Writing similar to the exercise above that I adapted from a course I took with Marc Bousquet. Beaufort leads students through the exercise to help them read and write discourse communities and genre. She provides a helpful series of questions to engage students in discussion around the invention activity along with an example map.

  • Designing Web Sites—Project #1 provides instructions for digital prewriting. The authors also use a mapping activity over a linear, argument drive outlines.