Digital Writing: Re-Defining Writing and the Writing Classroom

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

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If you understood everything I said, you’d be me.

Most writers would agree that our reasons for writing hasn’t changed over the years. People still write to communicate, and people still write to share and preserve knowledge and ideas. What has changed is the way our generation, with all its digital and technological innovations, has influenced writing. These are the topics that this blog explores. However, I think a good place to begin this exploration is to introduce myself, talk about my passion for the written word, and discuss what I hope this blog will mean, both to you–the reader–and to me.

It’s always hard to find a place to start when talking about oneself. I’m sure this applies to many others. How many times have we changed the way we define ourselves? At various points in my life, I’ve wanted to be just about everything, from a paleontologist to a musician. Quite a career change, I know. However, I think I’ve finally been able to come up with a definition that I know won’t change.

My name is Ariadne Abby, and I’m a writer.

I’ve always loved writing, but it wasn’t until recently that I looked at my favorite pastime as something I could potentially turn into a career. And I want to say that I owe this change to the books I’ve read. In my sophomore year of college, as I found myself constantly being rendered speechless every time someone asked me what my major was, I came to the realization that my problem wasn’t that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, let alone what I wanted to major in. In fact, I knew very well what I wanted to major in; I just couldn’t admit it to myself for various reasons. For one thing, I was always told by my family that “there’s no money in that. Be a nurse instead!” Don’t get me wrong; I have immense respect for nurses and physicians. I can only dream of having the same grasp on science that they do. I think they’re brilliant, but like any occupation, it takes passion to be able to do your job well. But when it’s widely understood that  certain occupations just aren’t as promising as others, it’s bound to sway one’s career choice. So, for a while, I looked for other majors that might be a close second to writing, that might also be more stable. Obviously, my search has proved unsuccessful, in that respect at least. It was unsuccessful because I didn’t find a close second; I didn’t even find a regular second, or a close third, whatever that means. But it was successful in that I didn’t have to find a close second; there was nothing wrong with my first choice at all. I realize I have digressed, though, so I’ll return to why the books I read changed the course of my college career.

I think it started with Boethius, who was a medieval philosopher. Most medieval philosophy works teach the same general ideas: Happiness is every human’s ultimate goal; everything they do is an attempt to attain happiness. Not just transitory happiness; true, lasting happiness. Happiness is defined by Boethius as “that which makes a man self-sufficient, strong, worthy of respect, glorious, and joyful.” Earthly goods, such as monetary or material wealth, power, reputation, or physical beauty should not be viewed as the ultimate end, or the end that leads to happiness. It should not even be a means to obtaining happiness, because these earthly goods are transitory, and they often lead a man off the path to happiness. For example, the more wealth a man has, the less self-sufficient he is, because he has to depend on external means to help keep his wealth safe. Because his wealth has become his only means to happiness, he constantly lives in fear of that money being stolen or lost.

Now, I’m not saying to just forget about money. In these times, money is quite necessary to live. What I am saying, though, is that we shouldn’t pick an occupation because it leads to money, because money won’t necessarily lead to one being happy. Although we don’t live in medieval times, the same idea that people’s actions are directed toward an attempt to finding happiness still applies. Moreover, the more you share material wealth, the less each person gets. When knowledge is shared, however, it doesn’t diminish; knowledge is the only thing that increases when shared. We all have our own niches, so it is our responsibility to share our knowledge–that’s how knowledge grows. When I read Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy, I learned that most of my apprehensions for declaring my major were not valid reasons to choose a different major. And now, here I am, doing what I love, loving what I do, and growing with each writing/literature class I take. Since choosing to be a writer, I’ve also learned that there is money in writing. Just probably not six figures. But that’s ok….Boethius would agree.

So, with all that out of the way, this blog will discuss many pertinent issues and topics in writing, such as how the digital age has influenced and changed writing, social media, and others. This blog will not only be informative and educational to you, the reader; I hope to learn a lot from it as well. I’d like to say I’ve remained pretty technologically and computer literate, but I think it will be a completely new experience to look at technology and digital media in light of writing. I hope that this blog will change the way people view writing. I hope that this blog will change opinions that writing is dead, that no one writes anymore, and that no one reads anymore. Writing is more alive than ever! Writing has the power to effect change, and through digital media, this has become infinitely more possible. Writing is no longer quill and parchment; it is adapting to the digital age, and digital media is revolutionizing the written word. So, thanks for taking on this digital writing journey with me, and I’ll see you next time!