For Millennials and even the more dynamic members of generation Z students, the Internet and posting online has become second nature. Sending an email, commenting on a picture and instantaneously developing quirky captions are such common tasks that the technical element has practically become invisible. You don’t need to teach the younger generation how to use the Internet because they are already of the Internet. However, some would also argue that articulating the fundamentals is also helpful for maintain a dominance of one’s own territory.In terms of understanding the how important features of online writing help influence the manner through which we communicate, it is essential to actual define these features. And it is of this mindset that I present to you the core factors of digital writing. With the help of credentialed authors on the topic of digital content, I have curated some indispensible the tools for producing effective and informative digital writing:
Step #1 – Keep it Short:
In his manual, “Twelve Tips to Better Writing for the Mobile Web” David Lee King attempts to enlighten readers and web users on how to orchestrate a suitable online culture in order to garner larger following. He proclaims in the abstract of the article that in the rapid world of online scrolling; “We must get our point across and have the writing be engaging. And yet, at the same time, customers need to be able to quickly read and understand it.”(King 2017) Most specifically, his article aims to lay the ground rule for writing intended for the small screen, aka smart phones, and aka that thing you cannot live without.
This concept of adapting the convention of writing to be more presentable on the small screen is reflective of the significant points in his work. His proposal to “Think Short” is demonstrative of his desire to adapt. King urges writers to “Skip the welcome message and the introductory paragraphs explaining the reasons for a new service. Instead, say what you mean in as few words as possible.” (King 2017) Although the suggestion of skipping pleasantries such as introductory paragraphs might appear to be preposterous to some born last century (I am also included in this shade) King attests it is beneficial to maintaining viewers attention. This concise nature is parallel in an article “Writing for the Web Versus Writing for Print” by librarian and Internet tenant Judy Gregory. In this piece that focuses on the stark distinctions between the traditional medium of print as opposed to the flashy media of the web, Gregory implores authors to write, “No more than 50% of what you would write for print.” (Gregory 2004) She fortifies her suggestion with scientific research “that suggests that reading from the screen is slower than reading from paper.”(Gregory 2004)
Her suggestions and the rationale behind them imply that readers are more comfortable when given shorter word counts on online platforms because they have a shorter attention span. There key is to make easily scannable material accessible for readers on the go. In conversation with this point to increasing the readers’ level comfort with online information, the King piece articulates critical steps for achieving these goals; “focus on the ideas, topics, or goal per pages…edit, edit, edit. Every word needs to count” (King 2017) The process of editing, though frustrating for most, does help produce a clearer sense of understanding for the reader – and even for the writer. Through editing, a writer is able to revise complex ideas and formulate a more succinct means of communicating their message. It is the chance to quickly comprehend details from a web page that subliminally Internet users yearn. Therefore, both King and Gregory contend that straightforward language and scannable content are imperative to developing a sturdy following.
Step #2 – Ignore Your English Teacher – Keep it Conversational:
Another key factor for digital writing that can to some extent be perceived as a testament to the age of millennials, is the notion of informality. Like several aspects of youth culture, the Internet is a chasm in which literature standards once revered in print media slowly dissipate. Keeping it casual – embodied by meme culture and mottos like YOLO – appears to be the consensus taken on by experts of the digital writing realm. Gregory emphasizes the need for scannability because “Users don’t have time to work hard for their formation” (Gregory 2004). As such, a conversational tone of voice in blogs, articles or websites is typically adopted by online platforms in order to increase the approachable nature of a site. Users respond more positively to online stages that they perceive accessible. In keeping with the cordial message, King entreats his readers to adopt colloquial tonality by defying ingrained literary rules. He beckons digital writers to abolish the rule that “Sentence structures are unacceptable” from their collective online imagination. Instead, he proposes writers, “use [fragmented sentences] sparingly, but feel free to use incomplete sentences [because] they provide a stronger impact when used.”(King 2017) This suggestion mimics the online culture of texting between teens and young adults of the modern era. Hence appropriating short sentence structures, which are typically employed in personal text conversations, into accredited blogs is a strategy for the writer to strengthen reader commitment; readers are more likely to identify with the type of writing styles that they are already familiar.
Familiarity of style is also beneficial because it boosts the likelihood of the reader remaining on the web page. Harkening to King’s notion of scannability for small screens, and his recommendation that “text should automatically adjust to fit and be readable on a variety screen sizes” (King 2017) it could be argued that his call for self-activating, and practically instinctive speed is due to the readers’ agitated state. Gregory confirms this in a key guideline of hers, “the Web encourages casual restless reading behavior. People skim websites and will leave if they experience boredom or disappointment.” (Gregory 2017) The reality that Gregory paints is bleak because due to the many online options readers of digital media are now viewed to be highly critical of the content that they pursue and consume. Hence in this vast state of endless articles and instant media access, it is pivotal for writing to be concise, slangy, and familiar.
Step #3 – Visual Elements Count:
In terms of defining the crucial elements of successful digital writing, one major aspect that is often overlooked is the visual layout of words on the page. Structuring the layout of a website in order to produce content for it would seem like the most levelheaded step for a digital writer. However, because of the fast paced temperament of millennials and gen Z’ers, channeling ones inner Ferris Bueller and stopping to acknowledge the formation of a site is rarely done.
On the other hand, King’s purpose for writing is to call attention to the details missed by the accustomed eye, which is why he plays up the design rules by lacing them through out his argument. He forces the writer to consider the ways technology assists or hinders the experience of reading for followers as they navigate the site; “when reading down a page, smartphone readers touch and move a finger down the screen to advance…touching works great unless there’s an embedded scrollable box in the middle of an article. Then the page gets a bit more confusing to touch….you might accidentally touch the embedded content and scroll what’s in the smaller box.” (King 2017) These digital landmines could prove to bring discomfort to the reader, and thus distract from the writing. Ultimately, if not constructed appropriately, webpages could detract from the readers’ attention and alter their willingness to revisit. It could consequently be suggested that the design elements of online platforms have a significant hold on the readers’ relationship to the writer. It is for this reason that Gregory is justified in her argument that in terms of online media –as opposed to print – “Structure and design are concerns for the Web writers.”(Gregory 2004)
Gregory is of the belief that digital writers become more invested in the publishing components of their jobs because of the connection to their readers. Gregory also supports the concept that the role of the writer has evolved to include other facets of the digital world. “Web writers need to be more than great wordsmiths; they also need to understand and address site architecture and the capabilities of interactive media.”(Gregory 2004) In today’s age, since the ways that readers experience the site through navigation directly impacts their reaction to the content, the writer is motivated to take on a variety of roles in order to proper execute their vision and maintain a bond to their followers. Gregory notes how this is completely goes against the rules of print media where “the project manager, editor, and designer may be kept separate in print projects”(Gregory 2004).
Why Should You Care About Digital Writing?
In terms of grasping the importance of these detailed tools of digital writing, I think it is noteworthy to consider the argument put forward by Lisa Levesque in her piece on “Engaging in 140 Characters or Less.” Levesque argues for the importance of social cohesion and positive communicative standards within online communities. She maintains that in the rapidly changing world of digital media and writing, it is crucial for communities to develop and preserve a social identity. This argument speaks to the reasons illuminated by King and Gregory as to how the definition of digital writing tools help bring about a sense of clarity for readers. Levesque accordingly so, delves into the use of these digital platforms in strengthening bonds; “User engagement was emphasized above all else, with 80% of posts being concerned with relationship building and 20% with self-promotion.” (Levesque 2016) The goal of digital writing is to capture the attention of the reader and create subsequent interactions between themselves and the author, the material, and the larger world. From this perspective, the reader is empowered to connect more profoundly with the blog content because they are provided with the opportunity to do so in a public forum that offers more room for collaboration. The role of the reader is therefore transformed from passive spectator – as was the case with print media – to active stakeholder. The mere fact that 80% of bloggers’ intention when publishing is directed toward heightening user interaction reveals how the reader participation is now revered. This new viewpoint of the readers’ role is parallel to the transformation of the writers’ responsibility. More so, it also speaks to an idea; “The Internet has empowered ordinary citizens to become fact-checkers and analysts. People with a wide range of experiences can collaborate online, sharing knowledge, sources and ideas, and challenging each others’ facts.” (Carroll 2010)
Digital writing has been shown to flip the script and redefine social positions and conventions of literature. In Sean Michael Morris’ article, “DIGITAL WRITING UPRISING: THIRD-ORDER THINKING IN THE DIGITAL HUMANITIES” he works to validate this claim, and yet test the limits. He initially acknowledges the merits of this newfound collaborative process brought on by the fluidity of digital writing; “As our writing practices become more and more digital, we discover that immense collaboration is possible, and we create meaningful networks using social media tools that help us control that collaboration, monitor it, make it purposeful.” (Morris 2012) Nevertheless, Morris cautions against attaching a positive outlook to the ever-changing aspects of digital writing. He suggests that simply because the roles of both the reader, and the writer have been expanded so that they are more inclusive or influential, does not guarantee that this change will bear positive impact; “Academic writing, intellectual writing — this writing right here — cannot know how it will be excerpted, repurposed, discovered, reimagined, plagiarized, undone…. therefore our reflections upon digital writing are always already ironic.” (Morris 2012)
Regardless of the irony, defining the devices of digital realm is instrumental to navigating through it and advancing communication with each other. I previously stated that this world is for many millennials and generation Z’ers entrenched within their collective consciousness. Yet, this privilege of having grown up in a technologically forward era does not ensure that correct usage of these platforms; “Young workers are often assumed to have an innate knowledge of the digital world and a real interest in using social media. This is not always the case. New workers, though they may be interested in using social media, will have the least knowledge of the organization that they are trying to represent. “ (Levesque 2016) Exposure to an experience will not always endow one with understanding. Morris echoes this argument by observing how “authors, we go unsuspecting about the Internet… to impose sequence and structure on a medium more familiar with non sequitur, and what we get back is revolt. Digital writing is a rebellion.” (Morris 2012) In spite of this rebellion, it is more meaningful to attempt to tame the beast of digital writing by learning guidelines and practices in order to achieve a sense of order for future interactions.
It is my perspective that understanding the codes and conducts of digital writing and media use are critical steps to forming bonds and appropriate professional relationships with others on and offline. For example, a college student such as myself would need to comprehend the dos and don’ts of official networking sites of the likes of LinkedIn, if they are to succeed in the real world. In this case, although Morris is right about the digital age being a state of rebellion against conventional literature styles, there are still platforms that function to fulfill rather traditional activities.
Some of the key rules for producing content and engaging in social spaces are still applicable. When outlining one’s online persona on professional platforms, the guidelines of web as articulated by King and Gregory remain highly relevant; drafting profiles involves one adopting the tools brevity, deliberately fragmented sentence structure, and an awareness of page layout. Tools necessary for the reader – who could be an potential employer, an alumnus, a peer – to be able to scan through and maintain interest in what they see. These tools are help modern youth and students communicate in newly meaningful ways, hence breathing life into the Morris’ belief that “Through digital writing we form a new relationship to our words: text becomes functional.” (Morris 2012)
Carroll, Brian. “Blogito, Ergo, Sum: Trends In Personal Publishing” Writing For Digital Media. Rutledge. 2010. http://blogs.dickinson.edu/wrpg211/files/2016/08/Carroll_Blogito-Ergo-Sum.pdf
Gregory, Judy. “Writing for the Web Versus Writing for Print: Are They Really soDifferent?.” Technical Communication, vol. 51, no. 2, May 2004, pp. 276-285. EBSCOhost, envoy.dickinson.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&db=ufh&AN=13026970&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Lee King, David. “12 TIPS to Better Writing for the Mobile Web.” Computers in Libraries, vol. 36, no. 1, Jan/Feb2016, pp. 12-16. EBSCOhost, envoy.dickinson.edu/loginurl=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&db=rzh&AN=112316567&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Levesque, Lisa. “Social Media in Academic Libraries: Engaging in 140 Characters or Less.” Public Services Quarterly, vol. 12, no. 1, 01 Jan. 2016, pp. 71-76. EBSCOhost, envoy.dickinson.edu/loginurl=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1094690&site=edslive&scope=site.
Morris, Sean Michael. “DIGITAL WRITING UPRISING: THIRD-ORDER THINKING IN THE DIGITAL HUMANITIES” Hybrid Pedagogy, 8 Oct. 2012, www.digitalpedagogylab.com/hybridped/digital-writing-uprising-third-order-thinking-in-the-digital-humanities/.