The Writing Process in the Age of the Web

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an introduction to the writing process in the age of the web for college writing students
  The Writing Process in the Age of the Weba introduction to the writing processfor writing students by Sharon GeraldThis work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to CreativeCommons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.  The Writing Process in the Age of the Web Process writing assumes that good writing doesn’t happen in one step, that it must gothrough a series of interrelated steps in order to arrive at the best possible results. Thisis what writing students have been taught for decades, and in the age of printpublication, this has been a tried and true approach. Now we are left with the questionof how it applies in an age of digital publication.First, we must recognize that the elements of good writing remain the same regardlessof the delivery method. Next, we should note that human nature doesn’t change in theface of new technologies, nor does the average rate of human mistakes. With these in mind, we might justifiably assume that nothing has changed regarding theneed to follow a clear writing process in order to arrive at the best results, and that would be true. However, what’s equally true is that our reality has changed. Peopleoften make writing public now (which is in effect publishing) without having time to gothrough the old reliable method of extensive revision and stringent editorial processes.News agencies now practice live blogging at political and sporting events as well as atnatural disasters and other news-worthy occasions. Cable news networks not only Tweet the news but also report on what other people are Tweeting. This makes their writing both an on-the-fly job and an interactive job, considering that their Twitterfollowers can reply to them as fast as they can post. It also means that the very definitions of publishing and broadcasting are taking on new shapes.Reporters now have to write extemporaneously in addition to speaking well underpressure. If they make mistakes, everyone sees. If they make too many mistakes, theirfollowers switch to another channel and another Twitter feed, and their networks take aloss in advertising revenue.It’s tempting to believe only professional writers have to worry about this level of off-the-cuff communication, but that’s not necessarily true. Businesses tend to interact withtheir customers where they find them, and if customers are following social networksand live blogs, that's where businesses look for them. Even real estate agents useFacebook to solicit new clients. Likewise, corporations that may have once sent outmonthly or quarterly newsletters to their employees on slick colorful paper can now easily email, blog, Tweet, and Facebook those publications, making it a simple matter tosend them out more often.The point is most jobs require some writing, and more jobs than you might expectrequire web writing which may or may not allow a whole lot of time for seeking feedback and making corrections.  None of this is to say that lengthy processes are not still applied to writing. Of coursethey are. The traditional newspaper, magazine and book are still around. Thetraditional brochure and newsletter are still around. And even on web pages, marketingteams often devote enormous amounts of time and energy to producing the bestpossible results. What this shift in paradigms does tell us, however, is that as writers we need to beprepared to work under both ideal and less than ideal circumstances.Even if you don’t always have time to practice the ideal process for writing, you shouldunderstand it and apply as much of it as possible to any given project. You should alsorecognize that viewing writing as a process and working your way through that processover and over and over builds up your writing skills in a way that will make you lesslikely to err when cutting corners under pressure.  What is the Writing Process? In order to understand what’s changed, it’s important for us to understand the steps inthe process that has worked for many, many successful writers before us. 1. Brainstorming . This just means jot down ideas, or think on the page. One of themore popular forms of brainstorming is to simply make a list. This list mightinclude what you already know about your topic, what you need to find out, what you know of your audience and what your goals are in addressing them. It may not even be that complicated. You might simply just start listing the points you want to make in keyword form.In any case, brainstorming helps you think through your subject before really trying to write about it. There are a variety of methods for doing this. Somepeople prefer drawing bubble maps or clusters in which they write a topic in themiddle of the page and literally draw bubbles of ideas and information out fromthere.Others might divide their brainstorming lists by columns or sub-headings. Stillothers, who are more visually oriented, might actually start by sketching outpictures. This method works best for descriptive writing, and shows us that thesame person might brainstorm differently for different occasions.Some writers carry notepads with them and simply jot down random sentences asthey cross their minds. When enough of these sentences add up, they have viable brainstorming lists, and they have a much better idea of what they want to writeabout and what they want to say.  2. Freewriting . A form of brainstorming in which people write continuously for acertain amount of time without stopping to edit, freewriting was promoted andpopularized among writing teachers by Peter Elbow (and others) in the 1970s.The idea is to turn off internal censors and just write by free association, lettingone idea lead to the next.This method can produce surprising and useful results. When we don’t censorour writing, our free association thought process often leads us in new directionsthat we may not have thought of if we’d made an effort to be logical about ournext sentence or next point. It’s often referred to as “discovery writing” for thisreason, and as such it is an excellent way to get past the feeling of writer’s block. When we just start writing and letting the thoughts flow we discover what we want to say as we go. Often we discover that what really matters to us is not at all what we started out to say. We discover as we go what we think, how we feel, andhow much we know about our topics. 3. Selecting a Thesis . Academic writing has traditionally been thesis based, meaningthat it has one overall point it seeks to prove or support. Other writing may notnecessary have a thesis statement with the main point summed up in onesentence, but most writing has an idea or a set of ideas to convey. Therefore,knowing your point and how to articulate it is important no matter what kind of  writing you are doing. Even novels and poems have themes. Though thesethemes may not be stated explicitly, they are still implicit in the outcome of thestory or in the imagery of the poetry.Before writing anything you want to share with others, it’s best to be clear with yourself what your point is. If you don’t know, chances are no one else will beable to figure it out either.Freewriting is wonderful as a brainstorming technique, but freewriting isn’tmeant to be public writing,at least not formal public writing of the sort that youmight do for school or on the job. In freewriting, you discover what you want tosay as you go. In drafting any kind of public writing, you need to know what you want to say and set about deliberately to make your case. 4. Organizing . This might involve constructing a formal outline, or it might be assimple as extracting points that make sense when put together from a brainstorming list. In any case, after brainstorming and freewriting, you’veprobably generated a lot of information in no set pattern. Before proceeding, ithelps to find the patterns and figure out what you want to say and in what order.Do you want to tell a story in chronological order? Do you want to buildpersuasive point from the weakest up to the strongest? Do you need to cut out
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