Do you like to write but don’t really do it? I bet you five dollars that by the time you finish reading this that I will have made you want to engage in digital writing. I can see you right now, figuratively. You’re sitting in front of your screen, eyes glazed over, you’ve got some sort of fake cheese dust around your mouth, and your head is in a position that makes all your neck fat stand out. You’re wondering why you would want to ‘write digitally’. Maybe that’s not you at all and you are miffed that I said those things about you. Sorry, but that’s not the point. The point is that I also used to engage with the internet passively. I’m taking a class on digital writing and each student has to curate their own blog. Through this experience, I’ve come to understand why people engage in digital writing. Digital writing gives you opportunities that don’t exist outside the web that can shape you’re writing. I believe that if you read about what I’ve learned and my experience, whoever you are, I can convince you to engage in Digital Writing.
What is Digital Writing?
Before I can convince you to do anything, it is important to understand what digital writing is. Digital writing is the practice and execution of creating documents primarily for the web. These documents often include multimodal elements. “Modes” can be understood “as ways of representing information, or the semiotic channels we use to compose a text. Examples of modes include words, sounds, still and moving images, animation and color”(Lauer, 227). Multimodal elements by this definition mean one or many modes like audio, images, video, or references/links to other documents. These documents exist in a variety of different platforms. A blog post and an online magazine or newspaper article would count as examples of digital writing but so would a tweet, Facebook post, or an Instagram. Digital writing is both the study of techniques and the practice of writing on the web. This is very much in the same way that English is both about the study of writings as well as the practice. Digital Writing includes learning about the platforms that are available for writing and how to use them as well as any writing that is actual produced.
Articlulate Ideas More Comprehensively
Digital Writing gives the writer the ability to articulate an idea in a new and more comprehensive way. The multimodal aspect of digital writing changes the way ideas can be articulated. In analog writing—i.e. pen and paper—the only way to express an idea would be the words on the page, and maybe a picture. With digital writing the writer has the ability to incorporate multimedia elements. In “Writing as Curation,” the authors explain how work in a course on American folk music could be improved by a project that includes digital writing. They write that students could, “choose from a list of songs that each have a rich and varied recording tradition. Students create playlists in Spotify that show this change for one song and embed these playlists into blog posts that explain their choices and process”(Coco, Torres). These types of writing couldn’t exist outside of the web and are arguably better ways to articulate the idea that the posts are about then a written text. For this example, this may be a better way of talking about American Folk music than simply writing about it. By actually allowing the reader to experience the music that is being critiqued, the reader has a more comprehensive understanding of the idea expressed in the post.
Adding multimodal elements to a document doesn’t have to be the whole focus of the document. It can also be used to enhance the tone of a piece of writing an interesting way. In “Informal Writing, Blogging & the Academy,” the authors give another example of how adding multimodal elements can benefit a post: “The hyperlink offers the online reader instant passage to citations, and for the creative writer hypertext allows for wry allusions and the deliberate double-edging of basic statements (for example, silently linking a mention of a police agency to a report on deaths in their custody)”(Cumming, Jarrett). This is a much subtler way to use a multimodal element. The entire document isn’t about this one hyperlink but it invariably helps to express the idea in a way that cannot be done in an analogue article. These are just a few ways that multimodal elements can be used to create effective digital writing. There are near limitless ways to incorporate multimodal elements in any topic from poetry, to news reporting, to biology. Digital writing doesn’t just mean the creation of more comprehensive and articulate writing; it also allows the conversations established in the writing to exist outside of document being published.
Improve Your Writing
Practicing digital writing, and studying the ideas behind will improve a person’s writing outside of digital environment. In “Tweet Me A Story,” Leigh Wright uses twitter to teach her journalism students to write better. When teaching how to write a lead, which is an introduction to a story, she gives her students a lot of information and then asks her students to write their leads in the form of a tweet. She does this because she says “You have to focus on the key point for a good tweet”(Wright). She uses twitter’s 140 character limit to force her student to write only what is necessary to describe an event. By learning how to write well within the limits of that particular environment, Wright’s students learn techniques to improve their writing elsewhere. Though Wright only uses twitter in this story, writing for other digital platforms can lead to better writing habits. In class, we’ve discussed how we’ve had to change our writing to a style that is more appropriate for a blog. This means that we’ve learned to express ideas briefly but concisely. Though we are still in the process of learning about digital writing it is obvious that these lessons will have further benefits and improvements to our future writings.
The audience is one of the most important aspects of digital writing. The internet allows for people, who might never meet, to communicate and to share and learn from each other. Even though this is something obvious, what isn’t obvious is how it affects an author’s writing. Writing for an audience is very different than writing for a teacher, a group of friends, or yourself. In his paper “Social Media in the classroom,” Dan Åkerlund reported the result of a study about young Swedish students’ use of blogs and digital cameras in their school work. He talks about the issues with getting authentic writing because of the fact that the teacher is “both the creator of the task, the receiver and the assessor and the student therefore produces its text based on what he/she perceives as the teacher’s standard and something that is consistent with the task description”(6). This issue means that students aren’t being taught how to write well but how to write for a particular audience: the teacher. He postulates that the introduction of the audience on the web, “may change the relationship between fictional writing and the more factual or concrete writing.” He talks about how an audience changes how these children wrote. In “Consider the Audience,” the author observes this same pattern in undergraduate college students. She writes, “When students feel an increased level of investment in their projects and a heightened sense of responsibility to an actual audience, the work becomes less about grades and more about shaping their scholarship”(Jen Rajchel). Both of these scholars have noticed a direct correlation with the audience of a piece. In “Consider the Audience” it is noted that audience causes an improvement of the writing. Writing for a public audience makes people try to write the best that they can. When writing for a public audience there is no idea of who the reader will be. This puts pressure on writer to create the clearest version and simplest version of their idea so that it can be understood.
Why I Engage In Digital Writing
Maybe you’ve gotten to this point in the essay, and you’re not convinced. So, I’m going to tell you why I practice digital writing. I do it because I want to write about the things that interest me and I want my writing to be meaningful.
In my class, Writing In & For Digital Environments, I have a blog where I analyze films by trying to understand the craft of filmmaking. The blog is forcing me to improve my writing. I often spend as much time editing as I do writing because I’m trying to get the most specific version of my idea expressed. Also, I’m a computer science major and creative writing minor. I would never have had a chance to express my thoughts about them outside of my blog. If I did for some reason write what I’ve been writing for my blog, nobody would have ever read it and without the multimodal elements the writing wouldn’t have been interesting. Web writing allows me to connect to an audience. It allows me to express myself in a form that is more conducive to my ideas. I’m always thinking about the form of the post. In computer science, form becomes what language and environment is best for the program. In creative writing, it is how do I tell this story idea I have: poem or short story, first, second, or third person. Digital Writing allows me to best express my ideas in a way that I feel best articulate my point, whether it a post, video, or tweet.
Åkerlund, Dan. “Social Media in the Classroom Different Perspectives on Young Students’ Use of Blogs and Digital Cameras in Their School Work.” Social Media in the Classroom (n.d.): n.p (2011). Web. <http://klassbloggarna.se/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/%C3%85kerlund-Dan-2011-Social-media-in-the-classroom-T%C3%B6nsberg.pdf>.
Coco, Pete and M. Gabriella Torres, “Writing as Curation: Using a ‘Building’ and ‘Breaking’ Pedagogy to Teach Culture in the Digital Age,” in Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning, ed. Jack Dougherty and Tennyson O’Donnell (University of Michigan Press/Trinity College ePress edition, 2014),http://epress.trincoll.edu/webwriting/chapter/coco-torres.
Cummings, Alex Sayf and Jonathan Jarrett, “Only Typing? Informal Writing, Blogging and the Academy,” Writing History in the Digital Age. eds. Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki University of Michigan Press. Trinity College (CT) web-book edition: 2012, http://writinghistory.trincoll.edu/collaborative/cummings-jarrett-2012-spring/
Rajchel, Jen, “Consider the Audience,” in Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. eds. Jack Dougherty and Tennyson O’Donnell University of Michigan Press/Trinity College ePress edition 2014, http://epress.trincoll.edu/webwriting/chapter/rajchel.
Lauer, Claire. “Contending with Terms: “Multimodal” and “Multimedia” in the Academic and Public Spheres.” Computers and Composition 26.4 (2009): 225-39. Web. <http://dmp.osu.edu/dmac/supmaterials/lauer.pdf>.
Wright, Leigh, “Tweet Me A Story,” in Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. eds. Jack Dougherty and Tennyson O’Donnell University of Michigan Press/Trinity College ePress edition: 2014,http://epress.trincoll.edu/webwriting/chapter/wright.