Archive for the ‘Web writing’ Category

The skills of the fleetingly famous

In Web writing on September 8, 2010 at 8:44 pm

After reading about the success of Dijana’s blog on the WordPress Freshly Pressed page, I thought that I’d check out some of the other blogs there and, in the style of myself, pick some out and analyse why they may have attracted WordPress’s attention.

Hey, read this thing I read! And watch this thing I watched!

I was attracted immediately to the most ironic of the new Freshly Pressed posts: Hey, read this thing I read! And watch this thing I watched! by Madame Librarian. Through the words of novelist Jonathon Franzen, Mme Librarian reflects on the shallowness of social networking as a way of connecting with our true selves, and resolves to heed said novelist’s words. With its conversational style, pop-philosophy/psychology, and wry, apposite and bizarre YouTube clip, this contribution ticks the boxes of a readable blog post. One thing I do wonder, though, is why it elicited as many as 47 comments.  Sure, it’s good to show your appreciation, but weren’t these people listening to what she had to say?

Image courtesy

Thunderstorms over Kansas City

I surprised myself by dipping into Thunderstorms over Kansas City next. Many of the Freshly Pressed blogs are cleverly assembled photo galleries, and this one’s no exception: written by a pilot/amateur photographer, it’s the sort of stuff you expect to find on the Web – that is, something you never knew you’d be interested in until now, in this case pictures of thunderstorms taken from the cockpit, and a first-hand account of how pilots manage poor weather conditions. Right, that’s it – next time I’m going to do a photo blog! (I’d be doing well to take better photos than pilot-blogger, though – check out his flickr gallery.)

Deathwatch of Our Daily Print

Next up, Deathwatch of Our Daily Print. Despite its catchy title, I must say I had trouble getting through this blog the first time. I’ve read many such articles, and was skimming for new news, so to speak. It seems I have no taste for anything even slightly redolent of redundancy any more, even when it’s well-expressed.

So, why has this blog succeeded? Well, here is MHO. For a start, the theme is highly topical (the death of print, and the paths journalists and photographers have to take to ensure their livings in the increasingly digitised publishing scene), and the blogger, ‘kkuukka’ has taken a highly personal approach to it. But perhaps more importantly, kkuukka seems to really listen to his audience. Many commenters are clearly in the industry, and contributed long, thoughtful responses – and kkuukka has responded in kind.

It’s interesting to note that he has also stopped short of saying everything he can on this topic. How can journalists and photographers keep ‘ahead of the curve’? He doesn’t say, but his ideas come out in the ensuing conversation. The now-familiar contention that newspapers are on their way out also draws a lot of comments, none of which, however, are snarky.

Kkuukka has clearly cultivated an atmosphere of measured, intelligent discussion on his blog – and also an atmosphere of inclusiveness (he’s Finnish, but writes in English and invites comments in a range of languages). In addition, he’s been smart enough to include a teaser about his next blog, on the iPad.

This blog is a sharp contrast to Sunday’s blog, with its brevity, and Monday’s blog, with its reliance on description and imagery: it’s fascinating to see just how many different approaches can work.

Now, stay tuned for my next post: the photo extravaganza!



Netspeak: What’s the problem?

In Web writing on August 24, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Having worked as an ESL teacher for a while, you’d think I’d be a bit of a language pedant. In some respects I am, but one thing you learn from teaching students struggling with your language, and battling through a foreign language yourself, is that while pedantry is important, it’s not all. Creativity, and a sense of playfulness with words, are just as vital. I noticed that students who showed a basic knowledge of the structure of English, but occasionally made up words that sounded sort of right, ended up far more articulate than those who dared not utter a word until they were sure they were word perfect. In keeping the dialogue going, my less fearful students eventually learnt the right words: they weren’t shamed into silence, like so many others, and they started to enjoy the process of learning, rather than endure it. I tried to follow the example of these students in my own language learning adventures, once improvising a half schoolgirl German and half Russian conversation with a bemused German-speaking Russian librarian.

So, having become much more tolerant of improvisation with language (if not with weasel words and nouns that are made into verbs), I felt pained tonight to see yet another of those articles about how the English language is being belted around by the new generation. Though such articles inevitably repeat the same ideas, I always read them; if nothing else, it’s a way of expanding my vocab.This article has some new news, though, regarding the legal ramifications of not knowing internet jargon. In this article, I also learnt about Rickrolling. Although this is a word invented to explain a digital phenomenon, could there a better way to express the idea? Yes, it’s an in-joke, and pretty silly, but it is shared among millions, and, like much absurd humour, it’s catching. IMHO, if digital media are encouraging people to invent new words and acronyms, then all the better, even if those words never do quite make it into the OED (or the Macquarie). As the article notes, students are not turning in essays full of text speak – they are aware of genre – so where is the problem?

Quiz time

Now, for a quiz. The other day, I was inordinately proud of my re-purposing of the word ‘dollop’. As in its original use, my new ‘dollop’ is a noun. Here’s an example sentence, to help you guess the meaning: ‘He’s such a dollop!’

Any takers? Here’s another hint, if you want it.

Back to the future

In The Web and democracy, Web writing on August 14, 2010 at 2:00 pm

You might recall that I’m cynical about the quality of much online content (see Is this what it is like?) and, of course, I’m not unique in this respect. Now,  from my own, unfocused surfing,  links my classmates and others have given me, and my reflections on my history with the Web, I’m starting to feel a bit better, and a bit more ‘in control’ – if this makes me paranoid, then so be it.

This week’s readings have helped with this. One of the common threads in all of the readings was that concision is key. Why is this so reassuring? Well, for a start, there is nothing new about this advice. Remember Strunk? For the uninitiated, here is an extract from his 1918 treatise, Elements of Style (since updated).

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
Many expressions in common use violate this principle:
the question as to whether whether (the question whether)
there is no doubt but that no doubt (doubtless)
used for fuel purposes used for fuel
he is a man who he
in a hasty manner hastily
this is a subject which this subject
His story is a strange one. His story is strange.

Second, there are many examples of this sort of writing on the Web, Catherine Caine’s article among them. I love decluttering text almost as much as I like throwing out household junk. My friends will tell you there’s nothing I love more than picking up cliches, tautologies and skips in semantic logic (mostly they find this amusing too, until I turn on them). On the topic of linguistic redundancy, no-one is better than Don Watson. He now has a website, quite a disappointing effort, but well worth a visit nonetheless. Better still, buy his books and devour them, or simply google him to find articles like this.

I also liked the advice regarding brevity. Roy Peter Clark’s idea that any topic can be tackled in 800 words is great. (The article is referenced in Jonathan Dube’s article, but the link doesn’t work, so here is the shortened version, abridged by Clark himself. How fitting! ) This too is not a particularly newfangled idea: remember the tiny essays you were asked to write as undergrads? Lecturers would insist that if you could distil your thoughts into, say, 1000 words, you had really come to understand your topic.

So why does this old-fashioned advice, common to all this week’s readings, reassure me? Well, it makes me believe there is some consensus about what good writing is. It indicates that despite the rubbish we’re faced with, many of us still have the critical faculty needed to weed it out.

On the other hand, something about this advice bothers me.

Do we all want to write like Hemingway?

We should be vigilant against tautologies and other redundancies, but I’m wary of  too much decluttering. After reading McEwan, an economical writer, a few weeks ago, I’m back to Thomas Hardy, one of my all-time favourites. I don’t think Hardy’s a great stylist: I don’t gasp over the beauty of his sentence construction. In fact, with his distinctive nineteenth-century punctuation, I’m often forced to re-read sentences to find the point. This being said, he can really tell a story. He’s a bit like the Stieg Larsson of the romantic period.

Yes, Catherine, the impulse to shorten sentences and remove idle words should be encouraged, but not everyone wants to write like Hemingway, even if they can. Sometimes these short, sharp posts, with their one-sentence paragraphs and self-satisfied economy, simply annoy me. If the Web is truly democratic, perhaps we should all be looking to find our own way of expressing ourselves? (Of course, those looking to sell something on the Web would do well to heed her advice.)

Today’s musing brings me full circle: as much as I’d like to encounter only quality – a wish that is only going to result in my turning off the Web altogether – I’d much prefer to develop my own Web filter, and be happy in the fact that, however long and ungainly their sentences, and however vacuous their chatter, people are simply expressing themselves. Which I guess is the point of Web 2.0.