September 2008 Archives

Journalism and Writing for the Web

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"Subheads are especially helpful in selling. They can gain attention (Free!), spark interest (How to retire in two years!), and make readers act (Click here for your instant subscription). " -- Writing for the Web 3.0 by Crawford Kilian

In chapters 3 and 4, I began to notice many similarities between web writing, and journalism. One thing that struck me about some of the tips for website organization, primarily those involved with blurbs and headlines is that they reminded me of a lecture we got in Journalism and Mass Media 100 years ago. We discussed the changes made to USA Today that eventually lead to it becoming one of the most (if not the most) widely circulated US newspapers. It's editors opted to make drastic changes to it's design and layout, in an effort to capture more readers. For one, if you casually toss an issue on a table, there is almost a visible "F" shape. The entire column to the left is filled with blurbs and hooks, as well as "old-fashioned links" (page numbers.) The two top stories have big bold headlines and sub-headlines that make up the rest of the "F". While this format is common among newspapers today, USA Today was among the first to switch to this more user-friendly format. I find it interesting that years later, these are still the same guidelines for successful web writing.

"Much of what goes on your site will end up on paper anyway, and the basics of good writing are the same in any medium." --- Writing for the Web 3.0 by Crawford Kilian

The vast majority of the tips were universal for the English language. Things like avoiding fragments, properly using adjectives, and avoiding the passive voice, are good tips for any writing. The part that was more web-specific, dealt with using simple words, when possible. The author specifically discussed the origins of words, as well as the tendency of Anglo-saxon words to be simpler than their Latin-based synonyms. That was something I'd never considered. While the tips were less a set of rules, and more general guidelines, I noticed they were quite similar to those taught in media writing classes, and AP style in general. The rules of avoiding anything complex and using strong verbs are recommended in most media writing. I can understand this as the aims for websites and newspapers are very similar. Both need to keep a balance between being attractive to the user, and useful as a source of information to them. Both also typically, though not always, have the goal of attracting as many readers/hits as possible. 

Still Trying to Find the Proper Voice For This....

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So far in this class, I've had a decent amount of trouble blogging. This is obviously a problem as the class happens to be Writing for the Internet . So far in class we've focused on creating webpages using HTML, which I'm quite comfortable with. I'm definately satisfied with the homepage I made, as well as the other projects we've done. However, we've also read about, and discussed several topics concerning the actual writing aspect of online communication. While I have little trouble with in-class discussions, the blogging aspect has been difficult for me. This is somewhat strange, as I thoroughly enjoy writing, and it isn't in the least something that's new or difficult to me. I'm just struggling to find the right voice for this medium.

One of the things that initially put me off, is the fact that anyone can read it. One of the first things we discussed was the fact that ten years from now someone I've never met may read this draw unwanted conclusions about my character. I find it terrifying that if one punches my first and last name into google, the first result will be one of my entries. I'm no stranger to writing for a large audience. I've written for magazines and newspapers, but really never worried about that. In both cases one can hide behind the filter of AP style and produce the sort of text that reveals nothing about the writer.

Blogging is different in that it's just a little more personnal. I also have no problem writing personnal writing, but I tend to do so with a reasonably small target audience in mind. In every case the audience has been comprised of people who have met me before. It is quite a lot easier for me to write candidly to someone who has likely heard me say something completely ridiculous after a few drinks at a party, than someone whose existence I wasn't aware of until they left a comment.

That said, I think I'm starting to get a better grasp on this. Now that the focus is shifting to content, I feel that blogging will become easier, or at least a little more painless. Hopefully, you'll all see some improvement.

I apparently need to read the course website a bit more thoroughly, or pay closer attention. Until just now, I didn't realize that a quote was necesary for the entries about the readings. For that reason, the only one that I included a quote in was the one regarding writing for the web 3.0 by Crawford Killian. Despite the lack of a quote, I feel that my entry regarding creating a webpage with HTML did a good job of responding to the content.

While I may have not posted often, or especially well, I did tend to post things on time. While this particular entry will be posted approximately 7 hours before class begins, generally I managed to post other assignments a bit earlier. I posted the first out of class assignment, where I made my first webpage, a day early. My entry about writing in HTML was posted long before the next class meeting.  With the exception of this one, and the previous one, everything else was posted at least 13 or so hours before the next class meeting.

I've had very little interaction, and should really start coming up with more clever titles for my entries. The only one that meets both criteria of being somehow relevant to the course, and longer than three words, was recently posted on my entry about the effect of text speak on the English language as a whole.

While many of my entries have been brief, a few tended to analyze the material to a greater extent. My entry about the "Smiley" is one example and the one about the effect of text speak on the English language, is another good example.

The other aspect of blogging that I really need to improve on is in providing feedback to my peers. I've recently commented on Aja's entry about wikipedia "Everyone else is using it. Why aren't you?"  as well as Anne's entry about the effect of the internet on print newspapers "Long Live the Paper!" 



I Need to Delete My Webpages....Immediately.

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"Webwriting should present facts and ideas in terms of how they will serve readers. So be sure to talk more about your readers than about yourself."---Crawford Kilian Writing for the Web 3.0 p23.

This quote describes essentially the polar opposite of every website I've created for this class. Granted, the overwhelming display of narcisism was intended sarcasticly...sort of.

The first few chapters contained a great deal of useful information for writing for the Web (with a capitol "W".) The initial introduction, which discused the half-century migration from volumes of typed text, to the fluid, unfathomable expanse of the World Wide Web. It was really interesting to see the progression of organizational tactics that eventually led to what we have today.

The vast majority of the information was the universal sort. Advice about writing that really doesn't change. Kilian even used a quick quote from George Orwell. However, there were a few insignificant bits that seemed dated. When is the last time anyone saw a black and white printer? I've been out of color cartridges before, but I think the vast majority are color printers.

That bit was pretty insignificant, but the part about reading text from computer monitors, was not. I think that at this stage monitors show text that is just as clear as printed text. While one who sits at a computer reading text may come out of it with the same glazed look as one who has spent an equal amount of time staring into a little glowing quadrilateral. I don't think that resolution is really an issue anymore.   

txt spk & The Written Word

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When we discussed the recent problem of students using txt spk in papers and other academic writing, I honestly didn't really believe it could happen very often. I assumed there were two possibilities; Minor errors, such as the example Jerz used in his blog about the same topic, he pointed out that they are uncommon and similar to other minor mistakes students make, such as leaving the apostrophe out of "it's" or putting an unnecessary one in "its." The second use of txt spk I could envision, is simply to screw with the teacher. Especially on small assignments, in classes that are a little too easy, it's usually kind of fun to mess with teachers (I would of course never do this....anymore.) I once answered all the essay questions on a short Middle School English assignment in Spanish, purely for my amusement (and bad Spanish at that.) It seemed rational that other students, well versed in the developing language of txt spk might do a similar thing to their teachers for similar reasons.

Realistically, I considered these the only two real instances in which anything, but proper English (or at least attempted proper English) would ever occur in academic writing. However, I recently had a brief conversation with a friend who is student teaching at the moment and says it happens quite a lot (and annoys her a great deal.) My brief discussion with her (as well as this being an assignment) spurred me to further research this phenomenon.

This banner came from a blog by Cat, who obviously opposes the use of text speak outside of actual text messages. The blog was just a few lines, and nothing new. I just wanted to borrow the banner, as it seemed appropriate for the topic. She or he had no idea where the banner came from, so there is no one I can credit.

I assumed the perceived problem of students using text speak would occur to a similar degree, at very least, in English speaking nations. A month old article by Daniel Boffy, of the Daily Mail, discusses a UK advertising campaign targeting children that used text speak in posters. The poster campaign consists of tips for safe internet use, with tips such as "nvr agree 2 mEt an on9 pal IRL w/o checking W a responsible XXX." If your unfamiliar with text speak, check out this translator (I tried it and it got everything except XXX, which according to the article means adult.) As the posters appear mostly in schools, many educators have protested the campaign, feeling that the use of proper English should be encouraged. London Grid for Learning, the group responsible for the posters, feels that the important thing is that the message reaches children, and that text speak is a good way to accomplish this.

I was surprised to learn that in other places, well, at least in New Zealand, educators are greeting text speak with far less disapproval. According to an article in USA TODAY New Zealand students will not be penalized for using text speak in their essay answers for most parts of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). The article did mention that they won't be considered acceptable on the English portions of the test, at least. The most shocking thing about this article was probably the date. It was two years old. I'd almost expect this sort of thing now, but the idea of that concession being made in 2006 is quite surprising.

In a UK forum for History Teachers, one teacher spoke about an article in a Scottish newspaper regarding text speak in schools. I would include the link to this article, but the article has been removed from the cite. This article, despite having not read it, did quite a lot to refute any arguments that text speak will cause the immanent collapse of the English language. The reason for this is that it was written over five s years ago, and discourse on the subject is primarily in the same prophesizing state that is was five years ago. By this time there should be some sort of evidence that we're embarking on some sort of downward spiral of illiteracy. I just don't see that happening at all. It just seems to me like a minor, near meaningless occurrence that has provided something for reporters to discuss in those gloomy months when no celebrities have died.






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Honestly, the title of this blog is the first time I've used a smiley since the nineties. However, I do completely understand that they can be useful. I don't consider myself a member of the anti-smiley underground movement that Stephenson's Article discussed. (Although I did suicide bomb that one internet cafe that was frequented by smiley-users). My feelings are closer to Fahlman's in his article, when he sympathized with critics of the smiley. While smileys don't bother me, I just can't use them. I've just always felt that I can convey sarcasm using words alone...and that people who don't get it don't deserve the laughter.

Upon recent reflection, I've noticed that I endeavor to write exactly as I speak, or at least as close to that as possible. I think that the reason I tend to avoid smileys is that I don't necessarily smile every time I say something sarcastically. It's just kinda my sense humor. I enjoy it when people get that slightly confused look after I say something. It's usually more entertaining than laughter. It's also amazing how many people won't laugh until the speaker smiles, laughs or gives some other cue that they just told a joke. (Primarily, people who aren't exactly capable of complex thought). Besides serving as a useful tool for screening people I may potentially decide to talk to, it can be REALLY fun to tell ridiculous stories to people who are gullible enough to believe them. Anytime I say something ridiculous as a joke, I feel obligated to run with it if the listener believes it. I also tend to get more ridiculous as I add to the myth.  For example:

Just the other night at the bar, I was hanging out with four rather tall and athletic friends (if you happen to have never seen me, these are two qualities I do not have...and I find it just a tad creepy that you read my blog). At one point we met a few girls, and we told them that we were all on a college basketball team. Another friend and I then went on for about half an hour telling them all about how I was the best player on the team, never miss 3 point shots, and will likely be drafted by the NBA, etc. I probably smoked at least 5 cigarettes during this conversation, and they NEVER realized we were kidding. Maybe it's not typical (and somewhat sadistic) to find other people's confusion and gullibility hilarious, but I really can't help it.

The other reason for my refusal to use smileys is that I'm a bit of a purist as far as the written word goes. I refuse to use the other common online abbreviations as well. I don't even use them in text messages (This is the reason I call anytime someone needs to have a conversation with any sort of depth, otherwise my thumbs get tired). It's not that other people using them bothers me, it really doesn't. I just can't bring myself to use the letter "U" for the word "you". In fact, I sort of think that I have the complete opposite problem that many young students face. My academic writing conventions tend to dominate my social writing, rather than the other way around. I am reluctant (or embarrassed if I accidentally do it) to write "7" instead of "seven" because AP style dictates that it should be such. The only real difference between my social and professional communication is that I don't bother to remove all the profanity and spelling errors from personal messages (my friends and family have learned to deal with it).

So I guess I don't really have anything against the smiley. It's just that my style of writing has no use for it.

Jerz was a Newbie Once?

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As I read Dr. Jerz' blog about being a "Clueless Usenet Newbie", I could really relate to the feelings of invasion faced by the experienced Usenet users. I remember back when Facebook was purely for university students. I also remember my initial revulsion when they started letting ANYONE, including (gasp) high school students, have an account.

While this is not a totally valid comparison, as Usenet and Facebook are completely different, I think some of the feelings are similar. It's amazing how the dynamics of any online community can be drastically shifted in a relatively short time by a change in their demographics.  

Fun with HTML

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Since I've now completed a website vaguely reminiscent of, (but quite a bit funnier than) the "Sarah's Notecards" site in the book Creating a Web Page with HTML, I felt it was about time to blog about it.

I've mostly been, and continue to be, impressed with the simplicity of HTML. As one might expect, I have made a few mistakes, but I've always been able to correct them pretty easily. I've found it really helps to constantly refresh the website, and thus check it after every change. The only real problem I had was with the padding command, which we later found is no longer in use. Fortunately, the margin command has the exact same use.

Anyway, the website I created works just fine. I actually did go ahead and make the three pages that the homepage links to, just for practice. However, I'm constantly thinking of things to do to improve it. (Hopefully, I'll never find myself quite that bored) For example, I could put links from the pages back to the home-page, or other pages. I'd also, if this was in any way a website I planned on having anyone look at, make it so each image links to a page with a larger version of that image. The encouraging thing is that I actually do know how to do these things.

I really enjoyed this assignment, and am looking forward to similar tasks. Anyway, my site "Dave's Notecards" is right here. I have yet to create a PayPal account, so if you want to by any of the Postcards, or 6X8 posters, just comment here, e-mail me or accost me in the street. They make excellent gifts. For a limited time the posters are 10 dollars off if you buy the entire set.  


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Heres the page in Text:Quiz.txt  and again in html:

My very first webpage

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I just made my first webpage, but you knew that from the title of this blog.

Check it out: Test.html

Response to Writing Effective E-mails

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As I read Writing Effective E-mails, I realized that in general, I follow the majority of these tips while writing e-mails. I also noticed that I almost never use e-mail for informal communication. At this point actually composing an e-mail and sending it to someone, rather than simply using some sort of IM or social network is tantamount to sitting down and composing a formal letter on a typewriter. I really don't use e-mail for anything non-formal, so I tend to apply the same set of conventions to e-mail that I apply to more formal writing.

Messages I send on social networks are a completely different story. As much as I hate to admit it, I am 100% guilty of sending messages with the vague and useless subject: "Hey man." In all fairness, those tend to be messages with no other purpose than to say hi (I have LOTS of free time). While I already essentially follow the tips in my e-mails, I think that in most cases they should be applied to other forms of online correspondence. To that end, its something I'm going to have to work on.