nature 4 March 1999
Nature 398, 20 (1999) © Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

Forging links in an electronic paper chain

Sir -- The Briefing on electronic journals was interesting and timely (Nature 397, 195-200; 1999). But one issue that was not addressed was how Internet publishing will change the style of scientific writing. One imagines that the length of on-line articles will be less restricted than paper ones -- even in the most selective journals. This will encourage a more thorough, but perhaps windier, writing style.

Counterbalancing this are the possibilities of hypertext. This will allow authors to connect their articles to supplementary material on their own sites or in external databases. This will enable them to reduce the main body of their text and to make it less technical, moving the details to linked sections. It may also lead to a more segmented, 'fact-box' style of presentation. Copious links will require careful layout, ensuring that they remain stable and reflect an underlying logic.

Finally, the use of hypertext in papers raises the issue of whether authors will be free to modify linked material on their own websites, or whether the content related to a paper should be frozen on submission. This is especially relevant to the refereeing process.

Mark Gerstein
Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University, Bass 432A, 266 Whitney Avenue, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8114, USA

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