What is digital writing? How has it changed the writing process? How does it change our view of writing?
Writing has come a long way since its days of the stylus and clay tablet, quill and parchment, and typewriter. Digital innovations such as word processors, desktop publishing software, and even things like smartphones that can connect to the Internet have all helped to redefine writing, and specifically digital writing. Because Digital Writing Matters defines digital writing as “the dramatic changes in the ecology of writing and communication and, indeed, what it means to write — to create and compose and share.”
Digital writing is providing infinite possibilities for writers. Any writer, and anyone, for that matter, can have writing published by means of digital tools such as blogging software or social media websites like Twitter. Knowledge, ideas, and opinions are spread much faster and reach much more people because digital innovations have made it possible. And, let’s not forget how word processors such as Microsoft Word and desktop publishing software such as Adobe InDesign have made producing quality documents much more convenient, and in some cases, a more feasible endeavor. With the advent of word processors, it is no longer costly and time-consuming for writers to fix errors on a typewriter; word processors allow for continual revision, altering the writing and editing process. Moreover, features like spell-check and grammar check help catch errors writers may not, helping to ensure the production of a quality written document. Because of the convenience brought on by word processors, writers no longer need to consider external factors affecting the cost and time to produce a written document; they can simply focus on the writing itself. Desktop publishing software has brought on benefits of its own. Programs such as InDesign broaden the scope of composing, allowing a writer to incorporate graphics and other elements into a document to help communicate his or her message. Content-based website builders have helped reshape the role of the writer, also making writers website builders and designers. These new roles for writers require a writer to understand his or her audience and understand how to appeal and communicate to that audience.
In addition, digital writing has also slowly begun to take shape in classrooms. As a Professional Writing major, I can personally attest to this. Because Digital Writing Matters has listed various practices that improve writers’ development, such as:
- Reinforcing the writing process–teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing their work; encouraging the practice of community-based writing; giving, receiving, and using feedback and peer review
- “Studying the craft of writing, including analyzing how texts in different media are designed and how they function across genres, purposes, and discourse communities” (DeVoss, et al., 2010).
- “Helping students analyze and understand the rhetorical situation for their writing, including how to think about audience, clarify purpose, and work with form and stance in order to cultivate in students the flexibility and strategic thinking that help them address new occasions for writing” (DeVoss, et al., 2010).
These practices have definitely been present in writing classrooms. Many of the writing classes I have taken have been project-based, providing opportunities to develop community-based writing skills and collaborative skills through group writing projects. In these group writing projects, one of the main challenges was to take several different styles of writing and produce a cohesive piece that sounded as though it was written by one person, that did not sound as though the various writing styles were competing with each other. These group projects were also usually semester-long projects, and my professors always encouraged the use of digital tools such as Gantt charts to keep track of our team’s progress on the project, and programs such as Google docs to have one place where team members would submit every project document and have way to share and revise without the messiness of emailing back and forth.
Even methods of submitting documents in the classroom became digitized. In my technical writing class, the class used an online discussion board to submit documents. We could access and view everyone’s submitted document through this discussion board, and during peer review, we would share our comments via this discussion board. The discussion board encouraged students to give and receive feedback, learn from their peers, and grow as writers.
Many of my writing professors also incorporated document design into their curriculum, which required the use of programs such as InDesign and an understanding of how to complement writing with design elements. Moreover, many of my class projects required the construction of a website. Learning to use content-based website builders, such as WordPress, and write and design for an online audience required an understanding of the rhetorical situation–of my audience and purpose, and use of writing and design elements to appeal to that audience. These methods taught students to adapt their style to the appropriate rhetorical situation and effectively capture their audience. Additionally, it allowed students to learn how various texts are designed for various purposes and media.
Incorporating digital tools with writing, both in and out of the classroom, has re-defined the role of the writer, the way students learn writing, and the ways in which writers communicate their message. Writers are no longer classified as the solitary figure with a pen and paper; writers are now instruments for spreading ideas and effecting change. Through digital writing, this has become more possible than ever.
“When I stop working the rest of the day is posthumous. I’m only really alive when I’m writing.” –Tennessee Williams