Tag Archives: writing strategies

The Digital Writing Process

One of my earliest and richest professional development activities was with the National Writing Project.  As a newly certified English teacher, the NWP’s process approach to writing seemed a whirlwind:  how could I help my students to see the possibilities within all the stages of pre-writing, organizing, drafting, and revision?  Slowly, I came to understand the process approach to writing and became a particular fan of Donald Murray, who made visible the struggles of writers and the joy of discovery through the written word.

Now, with nearly 20 years of middle and high school teaching behind me, I still respect the writing process approach and its benefits.  I also recognize that the nature of writing has changed tremendously over those two decades due to the significant influence of digital tools and sources.  Of course, today’s composers still must meet the commonly accepted conventions of the genre in which they are engaged, but our visual digital culture creates different demands than did the primarily print text-based world.

Digital environments mediate the navigation, length, and complexity of texts, requiring composers to adapt to audience, tone, and purpose in ways that previous generations were never required. Digital environments have disrupted the writing process as we once knew it due to an interwoven combination of traditional narrative sequencing, hyperlinks to other digital sources, infusions of multimedia texts like videos and podcasts, and interactive response fields.

A new Digital Writing Process SOARS!

Source: Carolyn Fortuna

Source: Carolyn Fortuna

  •  Survey: Have students surf the web and a large body of texts as a way of frontloading concepts and language. One way to ensure that students’ research meets your institution’s guidelines for social appropriateness and keen content connections is to curate a collection of digital models through which students can surf. (Here’s a sample curation from a sports and popular culture course I teach.)  A curation helps to illuminate what works among digital design, multimedia choices, and narrative structure.  And, so they learn to embed a pattern of attribution, it’s probably best for students to grab short phrases of direct excerpts from the sources they find, using quotation marks.  Otherwise, students might find themselves part of a plagiarism controversy.
  • Organize: Students need to sort through the chaos of all the fabulous texts and direct excerpts they’ve gathered from the web. Have students group their direct excerpts according to commonalities, and then have them narrow those commonalities into hierarchies. Students will also benefit from exposure to different methods to code evidence, such as color coordinating, charting, doing in-document keyword searches, or categorizing. Eventually, move students from an integration of patterns into a systematic, theoretically embedded explanation.
  • Address: One of the truly marvelous benefits of surfing the web is the capacity to see how other composers design their ideas and formats.  Commonly called conventions of the genre, these expected ways of adhering to a particular type of compositional style take a bit of scrutiny.  Have students analyze a variety of texts within a particular genre and identify certain predictable characteristics.  As students move into drafting their own compositions, they should practice different approaches to establishing mood and tone through deliberate word choices.  And, because their digital design should be visually appealing to appeal to a targeted audience, they should recognize and incorporate pointed design techniques, a clear message, and a professional look. 
  • Revise: Believe it or not, the revision stage of the digital writing process is the most time-consuming.  That’s because a first full draft of a composition, in all likelihood, lacks depth of ideas, language cohesion, and/or an interrelated design structure.  Moreover, when one aspect of the digital composition is changed, the other areas are immediately affected.  Guide students through a series of directed steps to consider how each part of the digital design process interacts with others.  Provide opportunities for 1-to-1 teacher: student conferencing, small group collaboration, and focus group feedback so that students have a balance of ample creative time and constructive responses.
  • Survey again:  Often, a full and revised draft of a composition still isn’t polished enough. That’s why the digital writing process requires composers to return to the web and to continue to survey mentor models of published digital compositions.  This final step is often lacking in classrooms, although new digital technologies and pedagogical tools have emerged to help teachers in the teaching of revision.  Students need to revisit the digital sources that originally inspired them, study them with a newly formed composer’s point of view, and decide what additional strategies they can adopt to infuse more nuance, voice, and authenticity to their own original compositions.

Many teachers now incorporate multimodal texts into their instruction as ways of making meaning. Because digital realms mediate content and meaning, curricula must also change to address new possible digital composing pathways.  Teachers in a PEW Research Center study report that their students have a broad audience for written material due to pervasive social media production opportunities. It’s time for teachers and cultural workers across disciplines to embrace a new Digital Writing Process as a necessary way to help guide our students to their highest levels of digital compositional excellence.

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches high school English and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information for your school or non-profit organization about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at c4tuna31@gmail.com.


Get to the Point: Using Digital Sources to Learn to Write Succinctly

Why is it so important to write clearly and concisely?  When you choose your words deliberately, manage each paragraph strategically, and orient your writing to a particular purpose, you make the greatest impact.  Let’s look at many different digital sources to help us understand why concise writing is best way to meet goals as a writer.

  • You can tell a whole story with very few words when you use compressed language.  A paragraph of compressed language may, actually, accomplish more than an entire 5-paragraph narrative. Check out these 10 Techniques for More Precise Language to help you develop strategies for writing with compressed language.

    Image credit: Ragan Public Relations

  • Succinct prose is like poetry: every phrase carried with it a visual image.  These images connect your reader to your ideas and experiences. Here is an article from a self-published author with suggestions how to adapt the conventions of poetry to prose.
  • When you write succinctly, you can accomplish several purposes instead of just one purpose.  Honestly, when we write for only one purpose, we often end us using lots of filler words and terms. Here is an overview of the four writing modes to give you an idea of how you can accomplish a lot with multiple purposes in mind.
  • Since many readers have short attention spans, you keep your readers’ attentions with compressed language.  Otherwise, your readers probably won’t finish reading your narrative.

    Image credit: reDESIGN

  • Your reader comes to understand your main point in a limited amount of time. That’s important when you want to capture and hold the reader’s attention.  Here are Five Features of Effective Writing to help you reach your reader.
  • In the age of soundbites, your audience expects succinct messaging. Read Keeping the Purple Out of Your Prose for ideas.
  • You say the most with the least amount of words. Here are 15 Ways to Write Tight to help you get to the point quickly and well.
  • You are able to make multiple points when you write succinctly; thus, you support your argument well. If you’d like to investigate ways to use evidence to support your main idea, read The Language of an Argument for many examples.
  • Compressed language is efficient, descriptive, and sophisticated.  Writers who compose with compressed language demonstrate expertise about a topic. How to Write a Sophisticated, Dynamic Scholarly Article has lots of very sophisticated suggestions!
  • Image credit: Xlibris Publishing

    Compressed language is a signifier of authenticity.  When your language is compressed, you are able to persuade others through a series of embedded meanings and messages. This blog post from the Huffington Post offers writers lots of methods to infuse your own original voice into your writing.

Yes, concise writing takes time for revision. But the power of your final product will be worth it.

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches high school English and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information for your school or non-profit organization about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at c4tuna31@gmail.com.