Public Writing on the Web

Multimedia

 

First and foremost, we must keep it in our mind that websites are addressed to users rather than readers. In other words, they must provide information in such a way that it is consistent with the nature of their medium, as well as makes full use of the medium’s resources. Digital capabilities are often grouped under the supportive term multimedia. The multimedia includes text, graphics, sound, video and animation. The potential of multimedia is increasingly being recognized and utilized in most areas of communication, like education, entertainment, business, etc. In fact, new fields of communication have emerged through the use of multimedia applications, such as the creative combination of educational, information and entertainment techniques that has come to be known as edutainment and infotainment. The fact that the digital medium is actually a collection of different media capabilities gives the web designer a singular task to coordinate the different media and produce, through their combination, an effective and compelling result. However, the technology for graphics, sound, video and animation is constantly changing. In this regard, a necessity arises to focus more on the text, about which we will discuss in our next blog.

Print vs. Electronic Writing

Strengths of Print Writing

  • We can read printed documents much easily than electronic ones. Reading online increases reading time by about 25%. This is because the visual resolution of a printed material is about 250 times sharper than the computer screen.
  • Print media offers more portability. We can read a book/newspaper/magazine anywhere without the hassle of hardware.
  • Print materials are faster to skim through. They can also be easily shuffled compared to online pages.
  • It is easier to underline or highlight something on paper.

 

Strengths of Electronic Writing

  • Generally, online publishing is more cost effective than print publishing.
  • Online publishing provides more scope for experimenting with style and space.
  • Colors appear more bright in online pages (use RGB) compared to print pages (use CMYK).
  • It is much easier to edit or update online content. It can be done with just a few clicks. In print media, for updating any information, the whole thing needs to be reprinted, which increases expenditure.
  • The use of multimedia helps to present online materials in a much more pleasing and entertaining manner.

Electronic writing offers more interactivity. For example, in surveys, people respond more readily to online requests.

DEVELOPING A FEATURE ARTICLE

A feature article is composed in order to explain how something works or is developed over time, informing the public of something new and/or important, and interpreting complex information in an understandable and appealing way. Basically, you may be doing one or more of the following:

  • describing the parts of your object and their interrelationships,
  • tracing the history of the object and describing its changes,
  • describing the object’s qualities and characteristics, and
  • analysing the object’s value.

To achieve this effectively, use a combination of the following strategies.

(1) Define terms and differentiate them from other similar ones. This is very useful while writing about a large topic with many subdivisions, aspects and categories. By defining it, you are specifying the parameters in which you will explain it. Consider using sentence or paragraph-length definitions for complicated topics, and parenthetical definitions for less complicated ones.

(2) Give an analogy. For example, using the same principle as an overhead projector, an epidiascope projects three-dimensional images onto a screen using a magnified beam of light. This gives the reader the gist of what you are saying and makes complicated terms and processes easier to grasp. In the same light, you can contrast the term to what it is opposite to or different from.

(3) Give examples that illustrate the functions or properties of the topic you are explaining. This helps the reader put the topic in context and thus relate to it better.

(4) Compare the topic with others to show its special features or common attributes. As with analogies, comparisons are useful in helping the reader classify the topic in a category with which s/he is familiar, and/or to understand the innovation or specific nature of the described object.

(5) Describe the properties/qualities of an object or situation and detail how it works or how it occurs and under what circumstances.

(6) Suggest reasons for a situation or development. This is useful when you think the reader is likely to ask the question ‘why’. It justifies a current state of affairs by explaining what caused it to come into being.

(7) Tell a story that illustrates your discussion. This is useful in making conceptual information more concrete by describing a ‘physical’ situation where the ideas you are talking about were at play. Stories are very effective in assisting the reader to visualise and, therefore, to better understand, your description.

(8) Describe a process. This is a way to show how something is done, a protocol or procedure. Describing processes also comes into play when giving instructions on how to conduct a task.

(9) Describe applications. This emphasises the practical aspects of research, by showing how inventions and discoveries can be used in everyday life.

(10) Use visual aids, such as a diagram or photograph. If you choose this strategy, make sure you explain in your text what the visual is intended to show and how it fits in your written explanation. To avoid digressing from your text to explain a diagram, consider using side-bars that contain visuals and text, and provide self-sufficient information that complements the information presented in the body of the article.

PARAGRAPHING

Paragraphing helps in dividing the material into separate interlinked units, which the readers readily cope with and assimilate into their understanding. The main aim of paragraphs and sections is to divide and prioritise the information into meaningful chunks. This, in turn, helps to highlight the points and issues, encouraging a sense of sequence and development. Therefore, for researcher/writer, paragraphing offers a powerful tool for articulating and critiquing their ideas. While, for a communicator, it helps in keeping their reader focused on the topic and line of logic.

Magazine article paragraphs are usually short, comprising two or three sentences only. Even one-sentence paragraphs are acceptable in articles, as long as they do not run in succession. Like short sentences, short paragraphs have a more intense effect than the longer ones as they concentrate meaning into a few words, which stand out from the rest of the text. For this reason, one-sentence paragraphs in magazine articles are often placed at strategic places to provide a striking effect.

In most cases, magazines are read in leisure time. Writers, therefore, realise that readers will not likely invest their time and attention required to absorb a complex document. Accordingly, the writer presents the information succinctly and directly without elaboration and in-depth analysis. Besides, the tone should have a conversational impact rather than conceptual density. Moreover, magazine articles also compete for attention. As opposed to a formally commissioned report, which assumes that the reader has a vested interest in reading it closely, a magazine article often needs to capture the reader’s attention. In this situation, having long paragraphs would be daunting, as well as discouraging. Hence, the articles should be preferably short, precise and to the point.

COHESION

Cohesion words or phrases define the association between one sentence and the next. These words or phrases link a sentence with its pervious or next sentence, thus, helping readers to relate the sentences and the authors intended meaning. The writer can use but, however, in spite of, or some other similar linking word or phrase; however, one should take care of correct grammatical structure.

Let us take the examples of some cohesion words and the relationship they express.

  • Enumerative cohesion words/phrases introduces the order in which points will be made. Examples: first, second; one, two; a, b; next, then, subsequently, finally, in the end
  • Additive words reinforce or confirm what was said. Examples: again, then again, also, moreover, furthermore, in addition, what is more

These words also highlight similarity. Examples: equally, likewise, similarly, correspondingly, in the same way

  • Explanatory words introduce examples. Examples: for example, for instance
  • Illustrative words note alternatives. Examples: alternatively, or again, or rather, but then, on the other hand

Other cohesion words include synonyms, referential pronouns, parallel structure, etc.

Synonyms:

These are words with closely related meanings and help in addressing excessive repetition. If you used approach in one sentence and want to repeat the same idea, then you can use its synonym method in the next sentence. Similarly, for skill, you can use ability, and so no.

However, one should make sure not to overuse them as its excessive usage can make your document confusing and unclear.

Referential pronouns:

If two sentences begin with the same subject, then you can use a personal or referential pronoun in the second sentence instead of the word itself (I, he, she, it, we, they, this, that, these). However, if the use of a pronoun makes the sentence confusing, then you should repeat the noun.

Parallel structures:

Parallelism refers to similar grammatical structures of headings and sentences used within a paragraph, and it adds clarity to your paragraph.

Not parallel: These books are not primarily for reading, but they are used for reference.

Parallel: These books are not primarily for reading but for reference.

Not parallel: Not only is he conscientious worker, but also he is very competent.

Parallel: Not only is he conscientious but also competent.

Parallelism is also important in instructions.

A. Setting up the printer, maintenance, and what to do if something goes wrong are easy with ABC’s step-by-step user guide.

B. Setting up the printer, maintaining it and troubleshooting are easy with ABC’s step-by-step user guide.

Sentences and Style

Tips for Choosing Style

Include Variety

“Sentence variety is a means by which the writer helps the reader to understand which ideas are most important, which ideas support or explain other ideas, etc. Variety of sentence structures is also a part of style and voice.” (Douglas E. Grudzina and Mary C. Beardsley)

Adding variety to sentences gives it life and rhythm. Sentences with the same structure and length become boring for readers. Varying sentence style and structure also reduces repetition and adds emphasis wherever necessary. Long sentences are useful when incorporating large amount of information; short sentences help in maximizing the essential points. To enliven the paragraphs, the sentences should be of varying lengths. This also helps in creating effective emphasis. If many sentences start with the same word (The, It, This, or I), it becomes tedious for readers. Therefore, changing the opening words and phrases can be refreshing. Different beginnings help alter not only the structure but also the emphasis of the sentence. Also, one change often leads another, thus creating an abundance of sentence variety.

Use Subordination Carefully

Subordination is a grammatical strategy, which combines two ideas of a sentence, one being more important than the other. The less important idea is subordinate to the more important idea. The data chosen for subordination depends upon the meaning you want to deliver. The main idea should be expressed in an independent clause, and subordinate ideas should be expressed in subordinate clauses. Subordination enhances the writing style.

Ex:      As the sky turned dark gray, the wind died down. [Focus is on wind].

As the wind died down, the sky turned dark gray. [Focus is on sky].

When, Whenever, After, Until, Before, After, Where, Wherever, Because, Since, So that, If, Unless, If only, Although, and Even though are all effective subordinators.

Proper Use of First and Second Person Pronouns

Usage of first (I, my, me, mine, we, us, our, ours) and second (You, your, yours) person pronouns is important in establishing a link between the writer and the reader. Unless giving an opinion, one should generally write in Third person. Try to keep first and second person pronouns such as “I”, “We”, and “You” out of your writing as much as possible.

CONCISENESS

In professional writing, being direct is important, because in many cases, ‘time is money’, and readers want to know if a document answers their question or addresses their need without having to analyse it in detail. Some writers believe that by including as many details as possible and repeating information, they become clearer. However, by trying to ‘drill in’ information, they may draw attention away from the main message and confuse the reader instead. In fact, by stating the point clearly and directly at strategic points in a document, one has a better chance of getting their intended meaning across.

One can make their writing concise by avoiding long, crowded and wordy sentences, especially if they are in succession. If you write one or two long sentences, make sure the next sentence is short to break the density. Besides, following the below mentioned tips will help for a clear and concise writing.

1. Favour the active voice where possible. Passive sentences are wordier, and can be confusing if they do not reveal the agent of an action.

Wordy: The project was finished by the workers before the deadline was reached.

Revised: The workers finished the project before the deadline.

2. Avoid ‘there is/are’ at the beginning of sentences. In many cases, we overuse these words, even when they are unnecessary.

Wordy: There are several conclusions that we can draw from these results.

Revised: We can draw several conclusions from these results.

3. Use modals (may, might, could, should, must) where possible. Some believe that modals are informal; however, this is not true. Modals, in fact, modify verbs and have a clear place in language.

Wordy: It is possible that the product will be funded.

Revised: The product may be funded.

4. Use verbs instead of nouns where possible. Besides making sentences concise, verbs are action oriented, and give the writing a more direct tone.

Wordy: A tool box is not a requirement for this procedure.

Revised: This procedure does not require a tool box.

5. Avoid weak verbs. Some verbs, instead of signalling action, depend on a noun to support them. In many cases, such verbs can be replaced by other verbs, which do not require a noun, such as ‘take’, ‘make’, ‘do’, ‘give’, etc.

Wordy: This investigation serves to show the findings of the experiment.

Revised: This investigation shows the findings of the experiment.

6. Use punctuation strategically. If your paragraph is getting cluttered with too many words or long sentences, it is often possible to use punctuation to cut down on words.

Wordy: There are many reasons for climatic change, which include toxic pollution, deforestation and volcanic activity.

Revised: There are many reasons for climatic change: toxic pollution, deforestation and volcanic activity.

7. Avoid wordy clichés. Some phrases are so commonly used in spoken English that they have become almost unconscious. Writing, nevertheless, gives the opportunity to become more conscious of how language is used, and thus allows for the elimination of repetitive material. Here is a list of such clichés.

Common Wordy Clichés

Wordy Concise
a majority of many (or number)
a number of some (or number)
subsequent to after
due to the fact that because
have the capability/ability to can
in the event that if
so as to, in order to to
with regard to about
give a summary of summarize
make an assumption about assume
come to the conclusion that conclude
take action act
make a decision decide
make a proposal about propose
end result result
cancel out cancel
enter into enter
completely eliminate eliminate
at this point in time now
there can be little doubt definitely, certainly
in the absence of without
higher in comparison with higher than

Pass

Pass= (1) go across: We passed the place where the accident had occurred.(2) move past: He passed his teacher in the hall.(3) to come to an end: The water crisis passed.(4) be approved: The bill passed the house.(5) transmit information: Please pass the information to all of your friends.

You spend your holidays/a period of time somewhere (Not pass): We spent a lazy afternoon down by the river.

When pass is used in connection with time, it is usually intransitive: Two weeks passed and there was still no reply.

In sentences about the passage of time, the subject of pass is always a time phrase: Another five minutes passed and the taxi still didn’t appear. This pattern is used mainly in narrative styles.

Pass up = when you give a piece of written work to a teacher, lecturer, etc., you hand it in: All assignment have to be handed in by Monday 3rd October.

Pardon

Pardon = (formal) forgive; the act of excusing a mistake: I’m sure they will pardon the occasional mistake.

Excuse = give someone permission to stay away from school, work etc., or leave a classroom, meeting etc.: Can I be excused from swimming today please?

I beg your pardon is used (1) to apologize to a stranger because you have bumped into them by accident, sat in their seat by mistake, etc.: I beg your pardon. I didn’t know the table was reserved. (2) to politely ask someone to repeat what they have said: Does this bus go to Marble Arch?I beg your pardon? (3) when someone has said something that makes you feel surprised, shocked, angry etc.: Who’s that woman with long hair?I beg your pardon! That happens to be my wife.

In formal situations, you can use excuse/forgive me instead of I’m sorry: Please excuse me for taking so long to answer your letter.

Painful

Painful = (1) causing physical or psychological pain: The finger I trapped in the door is still very painful. The child wriggled free and gave me a painful kick on the ankle.His mischievous behavior brought back lot of painful memories.(2) causing misery, pain or distress: The painful process of treatment is going on. (3) exceptionally bad or displeasing: This movie was painful to watch.