Academic journal article Visible Language

Multi-Level Document Visualization

Academic journal article Visible Language

Multi-Level Document Visualization

Article excerpt


This paper describes a prototype system that allows readers to view an electronic text in multiple simultaneous views, providing insight at several different levels of granularity, including a reading view. This prospect display is combined with a number of tools for manipulating the text, for example by highlighting sections of interest for a particular task. The result is a powerful approach to working with electronic text for various purposes: sample scenarios are outlined involving directors reading scripts, students studying novels, and second-language learners familiarizing themselves with grammatical constructions.


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 (Bork, 1983). An obvious example is the widespread adoption of digital texts connected by hyperlinks and identified by many theorists as a significant change in the way people are able to interact with the written word (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 (Chang et al, 1988; Ford et al, 1997). In kinetic text research, traditionally static design elements such as font, size, leading, color 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 extends 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. Much as architectural blueprints allow the person reading them to get a sense of an entire building or some key feature, such as the wiring or the ventilation, allowing readers to see an entire text at once (that is, providing text prospect) has perceptual advantages. These advantages, which we will explore in this paper, are not available in cases where the text can only be accessed sequentially. The system also includes related tools that allow the reader to carry out new kinds of actions that would not otherwise be available.

From hypertext theory comes the concept of associated text elements, where interaction with one text moves the reader into a related text. However, zooming through prospect views differs from a hypertextual implementation in that there are no predefined links between views. Hypertext is also predicated on the concept of connecting lexia or individual documents, so that following a link has the effect of visually replacing the source text with the destination text. In this project the text is treated as a stable whole and presented so as to minimize interruptions to the reader's literary engagement with the text (Miall, 1999).

Kinetic text theory contributes the notion of a system where text characteristics change as a way of responding to reader interests. In this case, the reader has the ability to identify the portion of the whole text that will display in the reading view. There is also the capacity to highlight specific passages in the entire text, by selecting the features from a set of choices that derive from the tagging available in the document. Finally, in cases where this system has been integrated with related digital reading tools, additional kinetic features may be possible, as in the Watching the Script prototype (Ruecker et al., 2004), where the reader views the script by watching it scroll at various character positions on stage._figure1

The Multi-level Document Visualization Prototype

In the Multi-level Document Visualization prototype that we have developed, the prospect view indexes a fisheye reading view, where a segment of text of about a dozen lines is shown at full size, while adjacent text is displayed as increasingly smaller lines of microtext (Small, 1996; Furnas, 1986; Bederson, 2000). …

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