One of the major writing beliefs I have held for a good portion of my life has always been that high quality, important writing requires a profound thesis, robust evidence, and intriguing and diverse diction. However, as I learn more about the world of digital writing I realize that many of these things may not necessarily carry over to the world of IP addresses and HTML. Online anyone can write almost anything, and it does not really matter what the content they are writing about is. This may seem like it would detract from the importance of digital writing however, it does not impact it very much. This is because digital writing’s importance stems from its interaction between the reader and writer. Digital writing is important because it offers greater interaction between the author and the reader by providing them with easier and more open ways to communicate through things such as comments and offers structures such as hyperlinks that allow the reader to quickly check sources, look at related websites, or read other articles by the same author.
What Is Digital Writing?
Now that I have hopefully cleared up what I will be talking about I think it would be good to clear up what digital writing is. However, digital writing can be somewhat tricky to define. This is due to the vast quantity of mediums in which someone can write online and also the ever-changing state of online writing. For example, in the introduction to the National Writing Projects book Because Digital Writing Matters the author lists some different interviewee’s perspectives on what they believe digital writing is and many of their answers differ in pretty drastic ways. However, there was one definition that stood out to me in which it described digital writing as “collaborative/participatory writing, hypertext writing, improvisatory ‘real time’ writing, and new media writing (i.e. multimedia authorship)” (NWP 6). The reason this definition stood out to me is because it focuses on what makes digital writing stand out among all other types of writing. It shows that digital writing is not just about writing online, it is about writing on a platform that allows for collaboration and participation for all parties whether they be author, publishers, or readers. Therefore, I believe the best definition for digital writing is any writing online that allows deeper participation, collaboration, and interaction between readers and the author. This means that digital writing is not the stories on blogs or CNN.com. Email, Google Docs, online quizzes, Quizlets, Twitter, and even the YouTube comment section could be considered online writing all because they offer the ability for the author and reader to interact on a deeper level than say just reading the pages of a book. This is also simultaneously what makes digital writing so important. Digital writing is the only platform that gives the author and reader an easy way to interact with each other.
So Why Is Digital Writing Important?
The interaction between reader and writer through comments is a major reason for the importance of digital writing. Up until the time of digital writing, reading and writing were two largely different activities. An author would compose a piece, it would be printed, and then the reader would read it. This did not allow the reader to really offer an analysis on what they thought of the writing or allow the author to clarify or extend any ideas. This is why the interaction between reader and writer that is derived from digital writing makes digital writing so important. One of the major ways this collaboration between reader and writer occurs is through the comment section of websites. Most people understand what a comment is however one important aspect of the comment section is typically overlooked, and that is how it offers a window into the readers mind. This means that the author can quickly recognize what people are thinking and how they are reacting while offering the reader a deeper layer of investment by allowing them to express their opinions to the author. For example, in Writing for Digital Media by Brian Carrol he discusses a quote from Joanne Jacobs that says “The internet has empowered ordinary citizens to become fact-checkers and analysts. People with a wide range of experiences can collaborate online” (Carrol 143). This is truly exemplifies how important digital writing is. Normal people can offer a form of peer-review to authors and collaborate with them to help the writer understand what people are thinking, and how to make their piece better or more correct. This collaboration is not possible in any other medium and is why online writing should be considered important.
Another example of how comments offer meaningful interactions between an author and reader can be found in Consider the Comments: Why Online Comments are Important for Public Historians. In this article by Kaitlin Wainwright while discussing the importance of online comments to history she says “online comments offer historians and heritage professionals research opportunities as well as a space for the public to contribute meaningful content” (Wainwright 309). This shows that not only do comments allow the author a window into the readers mind they also offer a way for the reader to provide the author with ideas or analysis on what they are reading. This means that readers can actually help support or provide evidence for an author’s research and ideas or help the author fix possible issues by providing meaningful criticism. No other medium allows for this quick, broad, or constructive interaction between the author and readers. Therefore, interaction between writer and reader is a critical part to the importance of digital writing, because without it a large majority of collaboration between the author and the reader would be lost. For example, last year I took an intro to business course. In this course we had group projects in which my group would divvy up the work in sections. The author of a section would then write out their ideas in a google doc and then the other members of the group would help revise or add on to the document through the Google docs share and collaboration features. If google docs, a platform for digital writing, had not offered the ability for the readers to interact with the author our group would not have collaborated nearly as well and the quality of our work would have likely suffered.
Digital writing is important because it offers the ability to quickly find related articles or sources through things such as hyperlinks that no other platform offers. When reading a book, you cannot just tap a word when you want to read more about something. If you want to find more information about something mentioned in a book you first have to hope that the source it is from is referenced somewhere in the text, then find somewhere to acquire the source, and finally find where the portion you want to read more about is located. However, with digital writing this entire process can be bypassed. The author can add a single hyperlink to any fact or piece of information they desire, and the reader will have an instant and simple way of reading more about what was written.
Furthermore, in a paper by Rodolfo Baggio and Magda Antonioli Corigliano they discuss the importance of the hyperlink to online writing saying the hyperlinks “importance is very high due to their ability to provide a visitor with a wealth of good quality information” and concluding that “a modest increase in the number of links may improve the visibility and the navigability of the destination’s webspace” (Baggio 1). This means that by adding hyperlinks to a web page it is easier for the reader to navigate the webpage and find the information but also makes the webpage itself more visible. This happens because the algorithm most search engines use identify groups of related things similar to what is searched. By hyperlinking something you are “adding” your writing into the same group as the source URL and therefore making it more likely for your article to be found when someone searches for something within that group (Baggio 2). This is unique to digital writing. Citing something in a book does not make it more visible to potential readers, however citing something online can actually make your article more visible and more likely to be read. Digital writing is important because it offers unique structures such as hyperlinks that make articles that contain them more visible to the public and likely to be read while also creating a more navigable and enjoyable reading environment that no other medium contains.
But Can’t All These Features Be Harmful?
Now some may say that this ability to quickly jump between source to source and site to site can have some major consequences too. For one, reading on the internet has been shown to make it harder for people to pay attention which is worrisome to many internet users and also makes digital writing seem like it should be less important. For example, take Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows in which he discusses the effects that reading online has had on his brain. Describing how it has made him and others around him more distracted. He goes on to say “the Internet, I sensed, was turning me into something like a high-speed data-processing machine, a human HAL. I missed my old brain” (Carr 16). Here Carr is saying that he does not like what the Internet is doing to his mind. He does not wish to be a machine that can only process data at high speeds. He just wants his old brain back, so he can once again read long passages and make deeper connections. However, I disagree with this. In my experience of writing online the quicker I am able to process data the better my final product is. Even this research paper would be immensely worse if I was not used to the fast-paced data collection that the internet has trained many of us to do. This is because without it, it would be too difficult to process the vast amount of information that is online and pick pieces that are important to one’s argument.
While digital writing may lead to more distracted readers the idea that digital writing is not as important as other types of writing because of this is flawed. This is because getting distracted online is not always a bad thing. Sometimes the ability to quickly skim through information or jump from source to source is good because it allows us to filter out a lot of what is actually not important to our writing and focus on what we are looking for.
Over the years I have come to expect that it is likely I will always be learning new things that flip what I originally thought was true of something on it’s head. However, I was surprised when I realized important writing does not necessarily have to be profound or eye opening. Digital writings importance does not necessarily stem from its profoundness but is instead rooted in the interactions between the reader and writer that the platform offers through things such as comments and hyperlinks.
My View of Digital Writing (Part II):
In 10th grade during the middle of the year I moved to a completely new high school. One of the many differences I had to become accustom to was our school provided iPads. This was actually one of the hardest things for me because I never had to do so much work online before. At my old high school, we would type up essays or homework’s in word, print them out, and then bring them to class on the due date. With iPads, almost every assignment was due online at midnight the night before. However, because of this the introduction of the iPad made me much more conscious of due dates. I could no longer wait until the night before to start my homework as most of it was due that night. We submitted our work through an application called Schoology, and let me tell you, Schoology was the bane of my existence for the better half of my sophomore year. Using Schoology teachers could see if you had opened assignments, how much time you spent on certain ones, and the exact time you submitted assignments. I was no longer able to rush through an assignment at 1am the night before; I was being forced to be proactive, how awful. However, once I grew accustom to it I realized how much it was actually helping. I would get things done early so I did not risk missing that midnight deadline and began using the calendar within Schoology to organize which assignments I should do when. I was also receiving responses on my work from teachers faster than ever and therefore could quickly correct mistakes or problem areas before they could metastasize into larger gaps in my understanding. I view this experience as my largest and most influential digital writing experience because I had never really written that much online before and I rapidly realized how many advantages digital writing had. Therefore, I believe that digital writing has not only made me a better student and learner, but also more prepared for college and the professional career I will hopefully have one day.
I believe that one of the largest contributions digital writing has had on me and can have on others is making them better students. Digital writing allows students quick access to a plethora of useful information. Therefore, the instant someone is having difficulty they are capable of searching through hyperlinks and researching hundreds of databases containing the information they are looking for in order to find a solution or answer that works best for them. For example, if I am doing my computer science homework and do not have any idea how to write a method, I will simply google search the method I am having trouble with and almost instantly be able to look at articles and practice sheets that will help me understand what I need to know. Another way I believe digital writing contributes to being a better student is through it making students more attentive to due dates. With digital writing there are no excuses like “my dog ate my homework” or “I left my paper at my house.” If you miss a deadline there is really nothing you can do. I believe that one of the major attributes of a good student is completing work promptly and digital writing is the best way to ensure that this happens because assignments can be due in drop boxes or structures like them at midnight to ensure the student is prepared for class the next day.
Furthermore, I believe digital writing contributes to making people better learners because it offers quick and clear feedback. For example, every week I have to complete a lab quiz before Sunday at midnight for Organic Lab. Immediately after I take the quiz I am able to see which questions I get wrong along with detailed explanations of why another answer is correct. This ensures that I am prepared for the necessary parts of Lab on Tuesday and makes sure I understand the necessary information to complete the lab. Without the quick feedback made possible through digital writing this would not be possible. Digital writing makes people better learners by offering quick feedback to enforce understood areas and correct areas of material someone may be struggling with.
Finally, I believe digital writing helps to prepare people for life after college. After college, I hope to either work in computer science or chemistry. So, it is likely that I will end up working with a team of people to attempt to complete a set goal, whether that be fixing a software issue or working with pharmaceuticals. Therefore, I think classes in digital writing help prepare me and others for this style of work by teaching collaboration. One of the major parts of digital writing is the ease in which it allows people to collaborate with each other. By studying digital writing students will receive more practice collaborating with others online and increase their ability to collaborate with others in a work place.
Although I did not realize it at the time Schoology was my first real experience with digital writing, and I am grateful for it. I believe that through contributions such as quick access to information, rapid feedback, and collaboration learning about digital writing helps people become better students, and therefore more prepared for the rest of their life. Therefore, I thank you digital writing for helping me become a better student and writer, even if I am still mediocre at best.
Baggio, Rodolfo, and Magda Antonioli Corigliano. “On the Importance of Hyperlinks: A Network Science Approach.” Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2009, 2009, pp. 309–318., doi:10.1007/978-3-211-93971-0_26.
Carr, Nicholas G. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. W.W. Norton, 2011.
Carroll, Brian. Writing and Editing for Digital Media. Routledge, 2017.
DeVoss, DaÌnielle Nicole, et al. “Why Digital Writing Matters.” Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments, Jossey-Bass,2010, www.nwp.org/cs/public/download/nwp_file/14008/intro_digitalwritingmatters.pdf?x- r=pcfile_d.
Wainwright, Kaitlin. “Consider the Comments: Why Online Comments Are Important for Public Historians.” ActiveHistory.ca, 29 Oct. 2014, activehistory.ca/2014/10/consider-the- comments-why-online-comments-are-important-for-public-historians/.