Consistent web design, writing of web content (redux)

I know its bordering on passé to write blog posts criticizing people and businesses for their shortcomings, but I feel it necessary to present another example of what I discussed over a week ago. In that post I discussed how brand confusion can be created by a company that’s sloppy with its online content. I stated that web designs and written web content that are clearly and consistently created could potentially translate into increased sales. I also posted a few examples of sites that lacked consistency and clarity.

Yesterday I found another example of inconsistency in branding, which reminded me to talk about an underutilized editing tip.

Check out this page from an Italian informatics company: http://www.eusoft.it/en/company

  • The title image at the top has the company name stated as “eurosoft.”
  • The text has the company name as both “Eurosoft” and “EuroSoft.”
  • The contact information at the bottom states the company as “Eurosoft.”

This is the name of a company, something that you would imagine would be treated consistently well in the public eye. Instead the company has three variations of its name on one page. I have no idea how to formally document the name of this company for my current project without communicating with someone at the company. I shouldn’t have to do that.

And now on to that editing tip I mentioned. If I were in this company and were calling the shots, I’d have had the material edited pre-live, in a web-ready format. This editing step gets overlooked frequently. Typically a body of text (if edited at all) will be sent for editing as a text document. Revisions to that document then will be pasted into a web page and called done. But one of my golden editing tips for web content is (if possible) to perform a final edit in the environment it will finally be posted to.

The easiest example of this is a blog post or article being posted through a content management system (CMS). There’s frequently a preview opportunity in a CMS, allowing the writer to see what the content will look like in its intended environment. Editing in this intended environment provides a fresh perspective on the text, often resulting in the observation of errors or inconsistencies that were missed while editing the original text document.

In the particular case of eurosoft/Eurosoft/EuroSoft, I imagine that someone may have edited the web copy in a text document format and then passed it off to the web developer. Sure, the text consistently uses “Eurosoft,” but once placed in its intended environment, things go awry quickly. Had a final edit been performed within the intended environment, I would like to believe someone would have pointed out the inconsistencies in the name throughout the entire page.

As I said at the beginning, I don’t necessarily relish in picking apart a person or business, but this seems like a strong example of brand confusion that could have been avoided by an on-page, “intended environment” edit. Of course there are other things that could have been done to prevent this. Perhaps a simple policy update by upper management regarding how the company name should be used in all correspondence would have also prevented this inconsistency. But then again, I’ve never been that qualified to talk corporate policy.

(Also, there’s an additional inconsistency with the actual domain name used: eusoft.it. However, I speculate they chose to use this domain name because a very similar company exists [or existed; it seems to have been acquired] at http://www.eurosoft.com/ called Euro Soft. [This company suffers a similar situation: instances of "Euro Soft," "eurosoft," and "EUROSOFT" make me scratch my head.] It’s also an Italian company. I haven’t been able to determine if there’s a connection between the two entities.)

Update: It’s October 6, 2011, and I updated the link to eurosoft/Eurosoft/EuroSoft. It originally pointed to http://www.eusoft.it/company, but it has since been changed by the company. Note, however, that despite this opportunity to correct their branding with the updated page, the new page is just as bad. Again, I see all three variations of the company name on one page. Additionally, the old page had the company name at the bottom as “EuroSoft,” but the new page now has it as “Eurosoft.” This is simply inexcusable.

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Posted in Editing, Web Content Creation, Writing

Consistent web design, writing of web content key

Briefly, here are a couple of observations I made while researching Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) for a client today:

1.Be clear and consistent with your site’s navigation. A frustrating example today was Sarlatech.com. (For some reason my thoughts drifted to “Sarlacc pit.”) Rather than linking to the company’s products with the word “Products” or “Services,” the site has a somewhat obscure image with the words “Proficy Products and Solutions” tucked away on the far right. Why an image with vague text? Why is it on the far right instead of front and center or in a prominent location? Sure, Japanese read from the right to the left, but do Indians (it’s a company based in India) reading English read from the right to the left?

Also note that the top navigation changes once the products button is clicked; “Contact Us” and “About Us” simply disappear from the page. Why? A more consistent design will keep people interested longer. This mistake is especially painful because if potential buyers are looking at a product online and are suddenly interested, they’re likely to want to contact the company for more information. That opportunity is taken away in this case.

2. Be consistent with the branding of your product. Today’s bad copywriting example is Prolis.info. Both the home page and the application page refer to the company’s flagship product as both “PROLIS” and “Prolis.” You may argue that capitalization isn’t worth getting all stuffy about, but this is the name of a company’s major product. Why is the company taking a chance of introducing confusion about a product by offering two different renderings of the name on the website?

I’m going to chalk this one up to lazy writing and editing. Numerous companies are guilty of cutting corners when it comes to who writes and edits web content (if it’s edited at all). Those companies are taking risks by cutting corners in this fashion. The benefits of avoiding those cost cuts and providing well-written and -edited content was demonstrated recently when online clothing company Zappos announced revenue improvement by utilizing Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to edit its content. Zappos suspected that fewer typos and grammatical mistakes would turn into more sales. The investment in editing services turned out well for them apparently.

So when I see sites like Prolis.info mangle their product name, I wonder how much thought went into the writing and editing of the web content. Sure, the rest of the site’s web content may be grammatically correct, but there’s more than grammar and spelling to consider. Less often considered are factors like consistency in writing.

What are some other less tangible considerations that make a web site and its content stand out?

Edit 1: A few hours after writing this, I found another example of inconsistent writing/branding. Visitors to Ethosoft.com will notice throughout the site inconsistencies in the company’s own name. Again, it’s only capitalization, but witness “Ethosoft, Inc.” and “Ethosoft’s” on the main page, yet on the “About Us” page find both “EthoSoft, Inc.” and “Ethosoft.” Even worse, compare the addresses here and here. Yeah, you guessed it: on one address is “Ethosoft, Inc.” and the other “EthoSoft, Inc.” Paying someone to edit a site’s web content would in theory eliminate this poor copywriting.

(Photo: jma.work, via Flickr Creative Commons)

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Posted in Editing, Web Content Creation, Writing

Do Internet-connected books have a future sooner than later?

Books that are connected to the Internet may have many advantages, but will publishers, authors and the public play along?

The combination of two interesting articles I read today has my brain spinning with ideas about the future of writing, editing, and teaching and how they relate to the publishing industry. The first article I read was by James Bridle who runs the site booktwo.org, which is dedicated to discussing “the future of literature and the publishing industry.” He discussed the usefulness of maintaining a complete history of Wikipedia edits, using the “Iraq War” entry as an example.

Bridle had this to say about the real value in maintaining the edit history in Wikipedia: “Everything should have a history button. We need to talk about historiography, to surface this process, to challenge absolutist narratives of the past, and thus, those of the present and our future.” I’ll come back to this thought process in a minute.

The second article (which also makes reference to the first) that was the real catalyst for my spinning brain was written by Hugh McGuire for O’Reilly Radar, a site dedicated to talking about the future of tech. In his article McGuire talks about the highly contested idea that the Internet and books will have a full on collision sooner than later.

“While the value of the digitization of books for readers has primarily been, to date, about access and convenience,” says McGuire, “there is massive and untapped (and unknown) value to be discovered once books are connected. Once books are accessible in the way well-structured websites are.”

He also highlights how in his opinion e-books are not truly Internet-connected books but rather only a dull step in that direction. The information contained in the e-book “live[s] outside of the Internet” he states, leaving users still frustrated that they can’t link to an e-book, deep link within an e-book, query across a subset of e-books or rarely copy and paste in one.

McGuire goes on to talk about what is called an Application Programming Interface (API) useable for books. The API is essentially a piece of software that allows two entities to interact. For example, news agency USA Today announced today that it would open up its data using an API that would allow other entities to use USA Today’s data. Work has already been done on an application that compiles USA Today’s 150 top-selling books and sends it to users of the API.

After I read about all of this, my foremost thought turned to how an Internet-connected book could easily be edited and revised by a publisher. Let’s take for example my friend Sean McLachlan’s upcoming book about medieval handgonnes. I read an advance copy of his book and found a questionable use of a word and at least one paragraph that could have used revising. He agreed that the paragraph could be revised, but as he said, it’s already printed and distributed.

Now if his book had been an Internet-connected book, imagine what more could be done? Sean or other readers, using an Internet interface, could notify the publisher about an error or revision, and it and other revisions could be packaged out in a free update by the publisher through the Internet. And of course, as Bridle duly notes about Wikipedia pages, the Internet-connected book has the advantage of also maintaining a detailed history of what changes were made and when.

Speaking of Bridle, I said that I’d return to his commentary. He mentioned the ethics of those who write “absolutist narratives of the past” that often don’t go challenged. Going back to Sean’s book, imagine that a piece of historical information about a particular handgonne is suddenly found to be false or proven wrong. If the book was an Internet-connected book maintained by a publisher that kept detailed edit histories, the book could be revised by the author to take advantage of the new evidence.

Of course there’s more that could be done with an Internet-connected book. McGuire subtly details much of what could be accomplished with an Internet book by pointing out what an e-book can’t do. The implications of such a book being made would be huge not only to your average book reader but also to students, teachers, and academe in general. Imagine owning a technology-related university textbook and receiving updates throughout the semester as things change!

But the road to getting there won’t be easily travelled. As with any changing industry, those deeply rooted in the traditional methods of publishing don’t take kindly to these ideas. Many writers, editors and teachers among the traditionalists also scoff at such change. How would the business model work? Would each publisher have their own unique API or would there be some sort of standard API created for all publishers? Would users receive small updates for free but have to pay for large editorial updates and new/revised editions of the book?

There will also be other speed bumps along the way. One commenter on McGuire’s blog noted that unwieldy DRM (technology used by media publishers to keep it from being pirated) could put a damper on enthusiastic embracers of Internet-connected books. Users already fed up with intrusive (and sometimes damaging) DRM on their software and music may not adopt the Internet-connected book as quickly.

I’m excited by the thought of editable Internet-connected books and those people that are paving the way for them. Other’s are not as excited. But change will happen. Will that change lead to books becoming Internet books? Will those authors, publishers and entrepreneurs who embrace such ideas ultimately be more successful?

Edit, September 14, 2010: I realized that I foolishly failed to provide a link to McGuire’s original article. I have corrected that. You can also go to it from this link.

I also want to add an exciting bit of news demonstrating how at least a few companies are tapping into the market with highly editable, Internet-ready textbooks. I stumbled upon this article on TMCnet.com about a dynamic, customizeable Creative Commons textbook that can be edited and revised by instructors to provide a more relevant textbook. New updates to a discipline, videos and sound files can all be added to the book.

While the book isn’t an online entity that can be hyperlinked to (and thus not a true Internet-connected book), it’s a step above what e-books are today, including the ability for students to highlight, search and annotate the digital text.

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Posted in Editing, Technology, Writing

An update from the author…

To anyone who reads this, I’m still alive. You probably know through either my main Web site or my Twitter account that I spent a third summer teaching English at a Spanish summer camp. But you may be asking why that kept me from posting blog posts here.

While Spain is a country that is modern in many ways, it’s still a little behind in the overall race. Recent issues with debt management and unemployment haven’t helped either. As this is the case, sometimes “luxeries” like regular Internet access aren’t afforded at a Spanish summer camp. Previous experiences at camp only lasted six weeks, so my Internet blackout period wasn’t too lengthy. But the ten weeks served at camp this year were a bit too much.

In the end, I found that I had been disconnected from the goings on in the world governments, let alone in the writing, editing, and teaching communities. It’s sad, but even short information outages can often put any Internet freelancer and tech junkie at a serious disadvantage over the competition. Ten weeks made me feel like I lost touch with everything that’s going on.

That said, I still have a bit of vacation time this September, and I plan to use it. But in between the cracks, I’m going to attempt to find my stride again, especially in the freelance writing and editing market. This includes trying to catch up on all the changes in those fields as well as the teaching field.

Stay tuned for a blog post this month! I’m not sure if I’ll write about my experiences teaching at the camp or something else. However, inspiration rarely eludes me these days. Cheers!

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Posted in Web Content Creation

Malamanteau, English, and the evolution of language

The headlineWikipedia goes crazy after XKCD has a strip that ‘invents’ a new word” on social news site Reddit screamed at me this morning. I just knew there was going to be something interesting to come from this.

As it turns out, XKCD, a geek-favorite Web comic, posted a comic today about Wikipedia’s seemingly strong affection for certain words, using the fake word “malamanteau” as a target. Even more enlightening is the title text that appears when the mouse pointer is hovered over it: “The article has twenty-three citations, one of which is an obscure manuscript from the 1490’s and the other twenty-two are arguments on LanguageLog.”

Of course, this led to a storm of edits to the “malamanteau” entry, highlighted by the targeting of the Wikipedia article for deletion. Afterwards, the “Talk” page for the entry erupted with discussion. (Puggal.com makes a decent effort of defining the word.) Writers, linguists, and non-linguists alike have commented on the word and its associated Wikipedia entry, debating if a fake word is worthy of an entry on the site.

This leads me to ask this: If enough people use a “fake” word, does it become real?

The creation of new words, when logical, is a perfectly acceptable extension of our human nature. Such creations are typically a result of one or more humans trying to express a complex idea in a simple way or express an old thought in a new way. This seems normal, especially if you believe in the human theory of adaptation or evolution. In fact, Merriam-Webster defines the transitive verb “adapt” as “to make fit (as for a specific or new use or situation) often by modification.” When applied to languages, suddenly the creation of new words makes much more sense.

But there are other complex reasons new words are being created. “The Internet, global commerce and global travel have accelerated the trend by putting English in contact with many other linguistic groups,” said CNN journalist John D. Sutter in a news article last June.

For the article, Sutter interviewed Paul J.J. Payack, president and lead word analyst for the Global Language Monitor. Payack was interviewed in part for the live ticker that appeared on the site in preparation for the one millionth word set to appear in the English language.

The ticker wasn’t to be taken literally, however, said Payack. “It’s always an estimation,” he told CNN. “It’s like the height of Mount Everest is an estimation. The height of Mount Everest has changed five times in my lifetime because as we get better tools, the estimates get better.” (Of course, it should also be considered that the Earth’s crust is moving and erosion is occurring as time progresses, adding to the flux of Everest’s height.)

But as people continue to adapt their languages to their rapidly changing social circumstances, there are always detractors and purists to argue against the creation and/or overuse of new words. Take for example Bill Rabe, former Lake Superior State University Public Relations Director, who gathered with friends on New Year’s Eve and created the “word banishment” list in 1975. The list has been going since, with new words worthy of scorn being black listed every year. The 2010 LSSU list includes words like “sexting,” the act of sending sexually-related material to someone via text messaging, and “chillax,” a portmanteau of the words “chill” and “relax.”

“Any dangerous new trend that also happens to have a clever mash-up of words, involves teens, and gets television talk show hosts interested must be banished,” said contributor Ishmael Daro of the banished word “sexting.”

Even humor magazine Cracked gets into the act with its 2009 15 words you won’t believe they added to the dictionary. “The Oxford English Dictionary is constantly updating, adding new words to reflect the vibrant changes in language and culture,” says Cracked writer Darach McGarrigle. “Of course, that also means that as said culture spirals toward a frightening and retarded oblivion, the good people at Oxford have to be there to chronicle it.”

But are newly-created words worthy of such scorn? Does “malamanteau” have a practical, modern usage in any evolving language? While writers, editors, and teachers all must deal with a morphing language in the scope of their jobs, all must realize that language is an extension of humanity and the phenomena associated with it. As political and social situations change, so too does the language used to describe those changing situations. If a “fake” word, adapted to describe a new social situation, has a practical use, then is it really fake?

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Posted in Linguistics

More blog writing outside of writediteach.com

Hey all! I just wanted to let you all know that I’m doing some writing outside of this blog. Michael and the very kind folks over at LearnTheNet.com have given me yet another forum for writing. They’ve specifically asked me to write about how technology, the Internet, and the classroom are all evolving together. As teaching is one of the fundamental components of my philosophy, this focused outlet is extremely welcome.

You can find my blog entries as well as others on their blog.

I also want to let you all know that I’ll be somewhat separated from my writing this summer as I volunteer my time teaching English at a summer camp in Spain. I still plan on trying to find time to write both here and on Learn the Net’s blog, but posts may be infrequent (especially here) during June through August. I average only one day off a week at the camp (and work a solid 12 hours a day), leaving little time to write. That said, I hope to maintain some kind of content here over the summer.

Finally, it’s Teacher Appreciation Week. Be sure to spread a little love to teachers both past and present this week! They will love you even more, and it just might make the difference between whether a teacher sticks with the profession or not. Teachers are valuable commodities across the world and deserve respect and appreciation.

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Posted in Teaching and Tutoring, Web Content Creation

Complexity, critical thinking, and how we write, edit, and teach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overcoming complexity requires critical thinking and reasoning skills, which are essential for most people who write, edit, and teach.

The above text comes from inputting my blog address into the site Wordle.net, which is dedicated to making “word clouds” from a variety of sources. I actually stumbled upon Wordle while browsing through The Complexity Blog, hosted by The Innaxis Foundation.

“Sometimes understanding the concept of complexity science can be mind-boggling,” said the author of the post. At the end, he concluded that “[w]ith Wordle, the concept of complexity science is a bit easier to grasp when seen in a text cloud.”

Yes, there is a field of research dedicated to the study of complexity, and I agree that complexity science is difficult to describe. The above image is one possible representation of a perceived complexity that exists within this blog’s posts. In fact, many blogs now allow for the use of word clouds to help the blogger visualize what’s most talked about. It’s only one tool in a growing arsenal of ways that human beings try to better understand the complexity that surrounds them.

Yet despite this need to better understand the world, why do so many people continue to take a one-sided, black-and-white approach to issues that affect them? Every week I find new examples of folks stating “X is causing Y to happen, and we need to stop X.” Admittedly, there are times that overwhelming evidence indeed proves that X caused Y. But more often than not, speculation, hearsay, and unsupported opinion seem to be behind the statement, not research and critical thought.

Take for example the controversial issue of global warming. A friend of mine mentioned today that she hasn’t seen Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” and doesn’t plan on doing so because Gore failed to reference the U.N.-reported issues with livestock and greenhouse gas emissions. She later apologized and said that she had gotten a bit worked up about the issue (we all have issues that we get worked up about), but it still didn’t address the slight lack of reasoning that went into the opinion. While she rightfully brought up the issue of livestock, wouldn’t it have been at least appropriate to view the movie before coming to some conclusion about its lack of substance?

But it goes deeper than that. Try browsing through some of the most vocal animal activist Web sites. You’ll find a cacophony of voices chastising Gore’s lack of commentary on livestock and greenhouse gasses. But how many of those animal-biased (and often vegetarian/vegan) folks are calling on Mr. Gore to address the almost equally dangerous flow of excess nitrogen from fertilizers (PDF file) used to grow plants?

Such single-minded, biased approaches to matters do nothing to help people grasp the idea that there is complexity inherent in most things. An unreasoned or blind “X is causing Y” approach to a situation frequently fails and only causes more confusion and work for others who are trying to make sense of it.

This is why I believe that it’s increasingly important for any teacher to impart the principles of critical thinking and encourage its use in the classroom. Lively, well-researched debates are excellent for expanding the critical thinking skills (PDF file) of the youth in our schools and has been used thousands of years.

Writers and editors also can fall back on critical thinking skills with their work. Editors who are fact checking, for example, are using critical analysis to ensure that what was written is factual. Writers employ the same type of skills, especially those who are presenting material to others who may assume the writers are experts in the material.

But by my own argument, I’d be foolish to believe that encouraging critical thinking in the classroom would solve all of our issues. There’s much more that I don’t currently understand about complexity science. It’s possible that we’ve evolved simple black-and-white arguments as a mechanism to combat complexity itself. But I speculate that it’s more out of habit or laziness that we simplify situations. After all, the human race has survived because of, not despite the act of reasoning.

I definitely want to learn more about complexity science and apply it to sociology. I believe that there are significant discoveries to be made about how we deal with complexity as humans. Have we become lazy with our critical thinking and reasoning skills? Or are our simplifications an evolved result of dealing with complexity? How can we — as writers, editors, and teachers — utilize critical thinking to make us (and others) better humans?

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Posted in Editing, Teaching and Tutoring, Writing

The changing face of written Internet content

Written Internet content has changed over the years, often at the sacrifice of quality and truth.

When I first started looking for freelance writing and editing work last October, I turned to oDesk.com, a site specializing in the online workplace. I still do most of my work through the site, but not without sifting through a depressing sea of online article writing jobs.

In what may come as a surprise to many people, there is a burgeoning market for cheaply written content for Web sites. One need only to look through the job listings in the “Writing & Translation” section of oDesk to discover this market’s pulse.

“I am looking for someone to write, spin, and submit 30 keyword loaded articles ranging 500 – 1000 words,” says the author of a job posting, who listed a budget of $5.00 U.S.

“I need 10 completely unique articles of 400 words each on the topic of allergy remedies,” another job poster states. The budget on that job is only marginally better at $20.00.

But fresh blog articles are not the only written Web content in demand. Many site owners look to reuse existing content in a practice called rewriting or “spinning.” Article spinning essentially involves taking previously written content (often copyrighted) and rewriting it so that it is optimized for search engines without being flagged as duplicate content.

“We will provide you with articles which need to be rewritten, so you will not be required to do any kind of research, just to rewrite the article,” states another job advertisement on oDesk. “You will be given a batch of 5 articles to rewrite so please quote for 5 articles not one. The rewritten articles must be 100% unique and must pass the Copyscape test.” By using Copyscape, Web publishers can help ensure that articles aren’t plagiarised, which would lead to red flags at search engines like Google.

But why is this sort of cheap, underwhelming content being created, often at Third World prices? What other changes are occurring with online written content? What does the changing media model mean for online news?

All of these questions are tied to a rapid shift in how the Internet is being used to transmit information and increase revenues. The shift is complex and difficult to define, but its indicators are everywhere in online written media. One only has to wade through the scores of blogs, journals, and news aggregators to see them.

The roots of the changes affecting online written content exist in the increasingly ubiquitous Internet and computer technology in use. It’s difficult to deny that as the number of Internet users worldwide continues to increase, access to online writing tools such as blogs and social networking sites also increases. However, while more people are suddenly able to share their thoughts and idea using the written word, it also means there’s an increased demand for online content. That’s where content providers, replete with visions of profit, come into the picture.

Enterprising Web gurus eventually figured out in the early twenty-first century that the combination of optimizing Web content to appear at the top of search results (called “search engine optimization” or SEO) and well-placed advertisements could yield significant revenue. Programs such as Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter helped bolster the popularity of the scheme. By throwing in cheaply-written material, targeted based on changing user trends, Web content providers could potentially make significant money.

Our news and how we receive it has also changed. It’s no secret that journalism and the newspaper industry have seen a wide variety of problems. As more people seeking media content have moved to the digital realm, so have advertisers. Many newspapers have had to make massive cuts to stay afloat, including the consolidation or reduction of editing and fact checking. Sadly, such measures carry over to the digital realm.

“The tough economic times have resulted in the reduction of staff checkers, and those that are left are looking for new ways to justify their existence,” said Craig Silverman, who attended a major fact checking conference in Germany this past March.

Reductions to journalism budgets? Rewritten and plagiarised Web content? Stale news and commentary that is poorly written? Is this what the Internet has to offer us today? Are fact checking, solid editing, and well-written, informative content disappearing? Or are these aspects being drowned out by a sea of mediocrity?

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Posted in Web Content Creation, Writing

How technology and the Internet have changed what we write, edit, and teach: Part 1

Technology and the Internet have changed how we write, edit, and teach. But how have things changed for these professions?

Ah, 1993! I was attending the University of Missouri-Columbia and found myself researching in both the university library and the computer lab. Well, to be honest, I was researching mostly in the library. At that time, our dormitory’s computer room had old IBM 3270 PCs (though the master computer lab on campus had more “modern” computers) that could be used to telnet to a Bulletin Board System (BBS) or use Internet Relay Chat (IRC). (For the uninitiated, a BBS was in many ways the precursor to what is now called the World Wide Web. IRC is real-time text messaging and chat that is still used over 20 years after its creation.)

At that time, Internet content was still in its relative infancy. Thus, going to the library and browsing through dusty tomes was still very much a necessity. But as personal computer storage and processing technology has exponentially grown, how we write, edit, and teach has also changed.

With two-terabyte hard drives now on our doorsteps, we can store the equivalent of an academic research library on our computers. As broadband and high-speed internet availability continues to grow worldwide, more people are able to access more data using the Internet than ever before.

What have these changes meant specifically for those who write, edit, and teach? Generally speaking, exponential technological growth not only has changed how writers, editors, and teachers around the world conduct research, but it also has changed what medium is used to conduct the tasks of their profession. Computers, word processors, and projectors have all brought changes to how people in those professions work; however, the Internet arguably has had and will continue to have just as big an impact.

Now don’t be deceived by this statement; millions of professionals still depend on reference books, red pens, and chalkboards to do their jobs. These materials still play an integral part in their professional lives. Yet every day, more people are using technology to learn skills, share information, and connect with people. It would be foolish to deny the slow shift in paradigm created by new technology.

For example, when I spent my time as a freelance English tutor in Spain, the academies I worked for had physical materials available for me to supplement my classes. Yet much of the material was stale and outdated; I would have been ignored by my students if I had used it because it wasn’t relevant. Instead, I used the Internet to my advantage. After determining the interests of my students, I was able to find useful and relevant material with a few keystrokes. That material was then used to supplement my own ideas and personality as a teacher, providing a richer and more interesting classroom experience.

An even more interesting example is supplied by shining a light on one of my current income sources—editing Web content. While editing used to mean going to the office to review and mark manuscripts, news articles, or research papers, now a significant amount of that material can be edited from home using a computer and an Internet connection. I’m able to log into a client’s Web mail, edit article submissions, and post them to an online blog, all from the comfort of my home. If there is a style issue that my Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t clearly address, I can dig around on the Internet for an answer.

There are other clues that professional paradigms are slowly changing due to technology and the Internet. Copyright infringement has become a much more publicized issue with the digital age. The world’s civilizations are becoming more connected. They’re sharing more ideas and information than ever. As more people are compelled to convert physical media into digital media and share it with others over the Internet, questions of rights ownership and legality are raised. Who owns a digital book, song, or game? Can copies be legally made? Is sending a copy of a digital book to a friend the same as loaning a physical copy to a friend?

Another clue that things are changing can be found by examining the journalism industry. As more people turn to the Internet as an outlet for free news that interests them most, the economic model that has long kept the newspaper business running becomes irrelevant. Investigative reporting and in-depth analysis in journalism is dying with the newspapers, no longer able to financially support that type of reporting. The news content and how it is written and edited has changed with the Internet, for better of for worse.

What else? Teachers now can give courses over the Internet, forcing many to rethink how new material is learned. Smaller publishing houses that can easily target niche markets using social networking tools are able to thrive in a publishing industry that took a big hit at the end of 2008. Content providers that can quickly produce and distribute written content on-demand are slowly pushing out those that can not or choose not to adapt.

All of these changes are a sure sign that how we approach our profession has changed. It will likely continue to change. But what are some of the roadblocks that we currently face? What challenges arise with the growing prevalence of technology and the Internet in our industries? In the second part of this article, I’ll address those questions and more as we take a look at the future challenges faced by writers, editors, and teachers. Stay tuned.

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Posted in Editing, Teaching and Tutoring, Writing

Experimenting with writing

When writers, teachers, and students experiment with writing, new doorways to creativity and learning are opened.

One of the most influential teachers I had in grade school was also the most subtle. My high school English teacher, Mrs. Christiansen, was never blunt or demanding. Rather, she preferred to let the class assignments do most of the captaining while she gently steered the course along during the year.

One of her methods was to give assignments that tapped into little-used aspects of the English language. There was the five-word poem that forced the student to think about how words work together. And there was also adjective story time, an exercise that sought to teach adjective order and use. And then there were assignments that encouraged absurdity.

I loved (and still love) absurdity in writing. But the art of absurdity needs to be as subtle as Mrs. Christiansen’s teaching methods. Sure, you can write a story about purple rabbits that fall up every time they sit, belch toads, and eat computer mice with salsa. That story would be blatantly absurd and be much like using a tanker truck as a hammer for your home improvement project.

But combining serious elements with subtle absurdity can often be very powerful.

My senior high-school English teacher (her name eludes me at the moment) also had a knack for subtle absurdity in writing. Through the combination of absurdity and special writing assignments, the class turned into a fun learning center rather than a drab repetition room.

I used this technique at times with my Spanish-speaking students in Spain. Some people frowned when told about their class assignment, but most grudgingly took to it and eventually laughed, all while learning.

Realizing that I haven’t done something like this in a while, I posted a request on Facebook yesterday, asking my friends to post a verb that begins with the letter “k” and add a definition if necessary. I explained that I would write a short story the next day using all of the verbs. What I didn’t tell them is that I’d also use all submitters as characters in the story.

What follows is the story I wrote today. I’ve changed the names of all the characters to respect the privacy of my Facebook friends, but the verbs remain intact.

I encourage all teachers and writers to perform such exercises to not only expand vocabulary, but also flex creativity. It’s perfect for writers and teachers as well as students. Poems that focus on the letter “l”, monologues with verbs that contain the prefix “over” or “out”, or songs with the “sh” sound… these all bring about creativity and learning.

And now, the story…

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Posted in Teaching and Tutoring, Writing

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