Text Document Prospect

  1. 1. Stéfan Sinclair

    McGill University, McMaster University, Department of French - Queen's University, University of Alberta, Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures - University of Alberta

  2. 2. Eric Homich

    Humanities Computing - University of Alberta

  3. 3. Stan Ruecker

    University of Alberta, Humanities Computing - University of Alberta, Humanities Computing in English and Film Studies - University of Alberta

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Digital text offers software developers and designers the opportunity to provide readers with a variety of new perceptual experiences and possibilities for action that have simply not been available through printed texts. An obvious example is the widespread adoption of digital texts connected by hyperlinks, identified by many theorists as a significant change in the way people are able to interact with the written word (cf. Bolter 1991, Landow 1994, etc.). However, many other new affordances of digital text remain to be identified, developed, and studied. One of these possible new affordances is the ability to have text or layout features change over time. In kinetic text research, traditionally static design elements such as font, size, leading, colour, and placement can all be used dynamically to achieve layout effects that were previously available only in non-interactive media such as film (Lee et al, 2002).

This project draws on previous research in hypertext and kinetic text theory to provide readers with a text document display that combines simultaneous prospect - an overview of the entire text - and detail views, with related tools. From hypertext theory comes the concept of associated text elements, where interaction with one text creates a reaction in a related text. Kinetic text theory contributes the notion of a system where text characteristics change as a way of responding to reader interests.

These two concepts are combined with the principle that providing readers with a means of seeing an entire text at once (that is, providing text prospect) has perceptual advantages over the situation where the text can only be accessed sequentially. This prospect view indexes a fisheye reading view, where the text of current interest is shown at full size, while other text is displayed as increasingly smaller lines of microtext (Furnas 1986). Prospect on an entire document has not traditionally been part of print design, since the static form of the text could not be the basis for any new opportunities for action derived from tools associated with the prospect view. However, with a digital text, there are several advantages that can be made available.

Firstly, the prospect view can be used as an index to the document, allowing the reader to gauge the total amount of text against the current insertion point. This feature is similar to the ability to gauge location in a printed book by physically judging the total number of pages against the current page. However, since in this case the text is digital, the gauge can also be used as an access method, where the reader can accurately change the current insertion point by choosing a new point on the prospect view.

Secondly, a prospect view can be used to gain insight into the overall structure of the document and some of its characteristics. For example, a prospect view with an associated search function might allow the reader to find a particular word or phrase and see at a glance all the points where it occurs in a particular novel. If the novel has been encoded in SGML or XML, the search might reveal encoded locations rather than only those places that match a given string. By extension of this idea, a prospect view on a play might allow the reader to select two or more characters from the cast list and see all the locations where those characters interact on stage. Since the prospect view and reading views are connected, selecting each of the character interactions in turn provides a quick means of seeing how the interactions progress through the course of the play, without losing the larger context of the scenes in which the characters do not appear.

The text document prospect screen works by showing three simultaneous displays of the same text: one is a microtext version of the entire document; the second is a small version of the current chapter or act; the third is a fisheye version where the centre lines are at a readable font size. The reader can scroll through the document by dragging the mouse in any of the displays, and the current insertion point in the text visibly changes in all three. Associated with the three displays are a number of tools and related features, each of which provides a new affordance. The annotation tool, for example, allows users to create and insert comments at any point in the text, which appear as marks on all three displays. As different readers each access and annotate the text, an interaction history in the form of previous readers' annotations becomes available. For documents that have been encoded with a TEI-style tagset, an additional index appears attached to the prospect view, showing structural elements such as chapter breaks for novels, or divisions into act, scene, and line for plays.

Through the combination of multiple simultaneous document views at different scales and a set of related tools, the text document prospect screen provides a dynamic reading environment that begins to demonstrate some of the promise inherent in digital text.


Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1991.

Furnas, G.W. Generalized fisheye views. ACM SIGCHI Bulletin, Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems. 17:4, 1986. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/22627.22342

Landow, George P. HYPER/TEXT/THEORY. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Lee, Johnny C., Jodi Forlizzi, and Scott E. Hudson. The kinetic typography engine: an extensible system for animating expressive text. Proceedings of the 15th annual ACM symposium on User interface software and technology, 2002. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/571985.571997

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Conference Info



Hosted at Göteborg University (Gothenburg)

Gothenborg, Sweden

June 11, 2004 - June 16, 2004

105 works by 152 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ICCH (24), ALLC/EADH (31), ACH/ALLC (16)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None