Web site and headings, illustrations, and link names

I'm going to comment on headings, illustrations, and link names in the WS web site.

Headings
When I look at the Writing Studies Web site, I see a number of headings, and I'm not sure of the hierarchy. On the home page, the "Department of Writing Studies" is a heading in red. This seems like the level 1 heading throughout. Lower in the page there is a blue/gray heading "Featured Items." I think this is the level 2 heading. But, these headings don't seem all that functional for the home page. The "Department of Writing Studies" heading repeats the header. There could be more functional headings here. "Featured Items" is completely non-descriptive. The home page could get more work done. I think quick links to "programs" and "faculty" would be a good idea.

Illustrations
The picture on the home page is pretty much a stock picture of the campus. It does not relate to writing. It doesn't pick up on any themes for the department strengths. It might be nice to pick a picture that addresses more of the strengths of the department, such as writing technologies and writing support.

Link names
Here I am looking at the left nav bar, and I see the following links:



  • About

  • Courses

  • Graduate

  • Undergraduate

  • News & Events

  • People

  • Make a Gift

  • Intranet

First, I think there are too many links. "Courses" does not seem necessary. The "About" link works fine. Undergraduate might be before Graduate. People might move up before "News & Events." The Intranet is a really important link. The pictured links (Center for Wrting, First-Year Writing, and Program in SLS) seem oddly placed, like they are not part of the department. They are confusing. And why should the Department have another link on the site? I think some link names could be changed and some eliminated. Also, Links are in ALL CAPS which seems a bit odd.

Readings for this week also addressed site maps and wireframes. These are important parts that we need to address in terms of planning the revision. More on that next week!

My Web Site of Choice for Revision

The web site I would like to revise for this class project is the Writing Studies Web site at http://www.writingstudies.umn.edu. I have been thinking about this site for quite some time, and while there are several things I'd like to change, I'll begin by selecting three pages.

Page 1: Home Page. http://www.writingstudies.umn.edu. I have mentioned this page in previous posts, but this page could change in many ways. For example, I would like to see a different header with a stronger U of MN color scheme. I'd like to see a different image on the header and words that make sense (rather than random letters). I'd also like to see different text on the home page. The home page text consists of a letter from the Chair that is now two years old. It is a "welcome" announcement to the new department. We no longer need this letter. And, as both Redish and the Yale Style Guide suggest, web page text needs to quickly get to the point. The Yale Style Guide suggests that there is no need for "welcome" messages from a CEO or chair. As to what would replace the text, I need to think further about that. The links on the left nav bar are one clue, as well as the links below that describe different entities such as the Center for Writing and First Year Writing.

Page 2. Here I am planning to select the "path" page for the Undergraduate Program. You can arrive at this page by going here: http://www.writingstudies.umn.edu/ugrad/. On this page there is a description of the major, a description of careers in the major, and then news and events. A few things that could change here: it might be useful to incorporate a small right nav bar with key links for the major. This appears in other pages but not here. We might reduce the textual description of the major to one paragraph and then list key links for more information. And the "news and events" could be a separate link rather than a scrolling option on the bottom of the page. News and events are a blog feed; perhaps the blog feed could reside on another page/link.

Page 3. Here I am planning to select the "path" page for the Graduate Program. It is available on this page: http://www.writingstudies.umn.edu/grad/. I think this page is in a bit better shape than the UG page, but there are still ways to improve it. The underlined text links in the first paragraphs could be in a right nav box, similar to what I'm thinking about for the UG page. The text could be edited a bit to get right to the point. Graduate news could be a separate link.

These are my ideas for now. I found the Redish reading very helpful (but overwhelming) and that generally the Yale Web Style Guide reinforced Redish's suggestions. A key starting point is writing in "topics" rather than "books" (from Redish, ch 5); Yale Web Style Guide refers to this as "chunks". That is the starting point for me--deciding what "topics" are most important to readers. Redish offers helpful guidelines for organizing information such as organizing according to time, task, or users' questions. I will think about what might be best and then continue thinking through. Also, both readings for this week had a lot of information on style guides. The key points here I think are defining heading styles in terms of font, style, size, and spacing. It will be important to make a style guide and stick to it.

All for now.

YouTube and Podcasts: Writing for Videos

Hm. The readings this week show examples of YouTube and Podcasts. We've seen several YouTube videos throughout class already; we've also had a demonstration of YouTube in class. The reading we had this week simply talked about YouTube as one of many free online web-based services where people can post. The author also suggested that YouTube definitely falls into the "Web 2.0" category. What that means is that YouTube is a technology that invites participation (rather than restrict it). Web 2.0 technologies thrive on the participation of others. The content is provided from other people. I thought it was an interesting point that the author questions whether or not YouTube will survive as a free business. The author mentioned that it has to cost a lot to support streaming video. And yet, advertisements must be funding much of YouTube.

But all of this digresses. Regarding "writing for videos," I had to wonder whether or not YouTube videos often had accompanying scripts. The answer, of course, is no. Videos posted on YouTube often times are just videos taken from phones or cameras and are simply posted. Grammar Girl is different. I enjoyed listening to the Grammar Girl podcast on the top 10 grammar myths. It was helpful to see the podcast script and read along. This is more like what we will be doing for our assignment. The script is not fancy, but it was helpful to the podcast.

How does video production change our understanding of "writing" on the web? We can see video production as an act of "composing." When we think of composing with video, we are using visuals and words to communicate a message. We need to combine those visual and verbal elements. This will require planning in advance. I found the sample scripts helpful in illustrating the visual and verbal combination. The two-column format really illustrates how the visual and verbal mesh together. However, I wonder about how difficult it might be to narrate this all at once. Without video editing, it will be difficult. How best to write a script for a video? This site has suggestions for writing a video; however, I think these instructions are for a well-produced video rather than for a screen cast video. Still, there are helpful suggestions, such as thinking about structure, style, and the overall message.

Home Page Writing

Chapter three in Redish's book Letting Go of the Words shares a case study on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services web site. She particularly focuses on the home page. She uses their home page as a bad example of home page web writing and design, citing these five principles:

  • Identifying the site, establishing the brand
  • Setting the tone and personality of the site
  • Helping people get a sense of what the site is about
  • Letting people start key tasks immediately
  • Sending each person on the right way, effectively and efficiently

Her critique of the web site made sense. At first glance, I didn't think the original web site was that bad. But reading more closely, I could see how some of the problems were big problems. For example, the search was hidden in a button rather than a text field, the A-Z index was confusing, and the only text on the page was a link to news. I think this home page suffered from a lack of purpose. The department knew they needed a web page, but they didn't know quite what to do with it. Instead, it includes a lot of web conventions (a drop down topics menu; A-Z index; news) but they are not organized in a way to help the user get the information they need. Redish says that the site fails all of the home page principles; however, in one area it succeeds, and that is that the home page is not overwhelmed with words. In fact, the home page is rather sparse. It's just that the words that are there are not helpful. The revision of the web site (p. 49) is improved in terms of helping people find topics. But, as a home page, I'd argue that it is a bit overwhelming. I was also curious to see if the revision held. In fact, it did not. If you go to the US Department of Health and Human Services now, it looks like this. Note that the topic categories mentioned on the revision on page 49 have morphed into links at the top of the home page. Now the text in the main window informs users about current issues and information. I do think this is a better home page design for the site.

My example of a site is, as I've been discussing in class, the Department of Writing Studies web site. For the purposes of this blog entry, I'll focus on the home page of the WS site. As I look at the site, after reading Redish's chapter on home pages, I see a lot of items that could be changed. The first is the glaring four paragraph letter on the home page. I have mixed feelings about this letter. This was posted on the home page when Writing Studies became a new department in 2007. So, in many ways, it was an introduction to the department. However, now it is 2010, and we are no longer "new." The letter format also strikes an odd tone for a web page (talk about remediation). It's as if the letter is being sent via the web. The same information could be made much more clear and concise by cutting the length in half and providing a gist of the department. I think a good example is the Department of Communication Studies web site. They include one paragraph on their home page and then a side bar for important links.

Another item on the WS site is that a lot information is "below the fold." The announcements are lengthy paragraphs, again. While certainly this information should be shared, perhaps it becomes its own page, and the home page simply includes short links. Another item I noticed on the WS home page is that the search function is close to the bottom left of the page. This might not be so bad, but it is below several links that appear confusing to a visitor to the site (Center for Writing, First Year Writing, etc.). I also wonder if the left nav bar links could be made more concise (are all the links needed? Are some repetitive?).

These are my impressions of the WS site so far. I think this blog entry is helpful in getting me to think through items I would include in my JING analysis of a site that suffers from poor web writing.


Linear and Non-Linear Reading


This week we read three web sites from Jakob Nielsen regarding reading and writing on the web. Nielsen is a usability expert who has done hundreds of usability studies watching users test web sites. His conclusions are based on these studies. One big idea he forwards is the idea of "information foraging" or "hunting and gathering" for information online. He also suggests that readers "scan and skim" rather than read in a linear fashion. He outlines several strategies, such as using subheadings, writing in an inverted style, and using lists. He also suggests cutting the text, and cutting the text again to make reading on the web as concise as possible.

Eye tracking is a research method in which users' eye movements are "tracked" on screen to see what and how they are reading on the web. I'm very excited that we will be able to go to the usability lab this week to see eye tracking in motion.

To the prompt: am I "linear" or "non-linear" reader? My question is: "it depends." It depends on the purpose of reading. For some reading, like academic reading, it is really important for me to read in a linear fashion. Academic articles, for example, are written in a linear way and are meant to be read that way. They aren't always the most exciting--or concise--of course, but there is valuable information in these articles. If I am reading on the web, I would say that, yes, I am a non-linear reader. I am often on the web wanting to get information FAST, which means that I look for cues that Nielsen described: headings, keywords, lists, etc. I want things explained quickly, and I want information to be factual. There is something about the web that suggests speed and convenience. It prompts "sound bites" of information. It is one thing to be a reader and critique information that is available: it is quite another to be a web writer and try to write for these kinds of readers. And THAT is what we will focus this next unit on: writing for the web. I'm excited to get started.

Visual/Verbal Remediation

Blog Post 4: Why is the "visual" so important to digital writing? Reflect on your experiences with visual elements and the Internet. Refer to Bolter where relevant.


Bolter suggests in Chapter 4 of Writing Space that more and more text is being supplemented by visual images on the Web. His overall claim is that "Hypertext seldom exists as pure text without any graphics. Today, hypertext is usually hypermedia, as it is on the World Wide Web, and hypermedia offers a second challenge to the printed book" (47).

There are so many examples of visuals on the web. Visuals certainly supplement many web pages. I'm thinking of University of Minnesota web pages, and particularly department web pages. For example, think of the Department of Writing Studies home page. The opening page shows a header filled with visual images of books and letters (although it is not my favorite!). There is also a picture on the right of students walking on campus. Informational pages often have visuals like this to supplement the information on the page, and in that sense, they resemble desktop publishing / brochures / flyers that you might see in print. I guess this example is a rather tame example of how visuals matter on the web.

Where visuals ramp up the stakes is as interactive links on web sites. For example, on University of Minnesota sites, the University of Minnesota word logo (usually in the top left corner) acts as a link that directs users back to the U of MN home page. See, again, the Department of Writing Studies home page as an example and look in the top left corner. Logos as links to home pages is fairly standard on the web. See also the YMCA Twin Cities site, and click on the "Y" logo in the top left.

As we've already seen in class, people can make interactive slide shows that change images when clicked. And we might think of the prevelance of visuals on social networking sites such as FaceBook, where sharing pictures is a big part of the FaceBook experience. Photos can be posted for profiles, for sharing, and can even be tagged and connected to other friends.

At the end of chapter 4, Bolter claims that "In short, electronic hypertext is not the end of print; it is instead the remediation of print" (46). He discusses at several moments in this chapter how visuals are taking on an increasing role of communicating on the web rather than just supplementing verbal text. I enjoyed his discussion of ekphrasis, or the technique of making verbal text as descriptive as possible to create visual images (56). Bolter plays with this concept throughout chapter 4 as a way of talking about the increasing responsibility visuals are taking on in digital media (again, as "communicators" and not just as "enhancers" of verbal text).

Bolter's claims here remind of a book by Gunther Kress and Theo VanLeeuwen, The Grammar of Visual Design. In this book they discuss the interplay of verbal and visual. Even the title plays with the intersection of visual and verbal. Another group of researchers, The New London Group, also discusses multimodal features of text. I am also reminded of Kostelnick and Robert's Designing Visual Language as a good reference.

As I think about my definition of writing, I would include visual aspects as well as alphabetic text as "writing." In addition, when one thinks of composing processes on the web, it is difficult NOT to include visuals. Especially in technical communication, understanding the impact of visuals is important to the overall message, whether the visual is seen as font sizes, types, and spacing, or graphics.


Visual/Verbal Remediation

Blog Post 4: Why is the "visual" so important to digital writing? Reflect on your experiences with visual elements and the Internet. Refer to Bolter where relevant.


Bolter suggests in Chapter 4 of Writing Space that more and more text is being supplemented by visual images on the Web. His overall claim is that "Hypertext seldom exists as pure text without any graphics. Today, hypertext is usually hypermedia, as it is on the World Wide Web, and hypermedia offers a second challenge to the printed book" (47).

There are so many examples of visuals on the web. Visuals certainly supplement many web pages. I'm thinking of University of Minnesota web pages, and particularly department web pages. For example, think of the Department of Writing Studies home page. The opening page shows a header filled with visual images of books and letters (although it is not my favorite!). There is also a picture on the right of students walking on campus. Informational pages often have visuals like this to supplement the information on the page, and in that sense, they resemble desktop publishing / brochures / flyers that you might see in print. I guess this example is a rather tame example of how visuals matter on the web.

Where visuals ramp up the stakes is as interactive links on web sites. For example, on University of Minnesota sites, the University of Minnesota word logo (usually in the top left corner) acts as a link that directs users back to the U of MN home page. See, again, the Department of Writing Studies home page as an example and look in the top left corner. Logos as links to home pages is fairly standard on the web. See also the YMCA Twin Cities site, and click on the "Y" logo in the top left.

As we've already seen in class, people can make interactive slide shows that change images when clicked. And we might think of the prevelance of visuals on social networking sites such as FaceBook, where sharing pictures is a big part of the FaceBook experience. Photos can be posted for profiles, for sharing, and can even be tagged and connected to other friends.

At the end of chapter 4, Bolter claims that "In short, electronic hypertext is not the end of print; it is instead the remediation of print" (46). He discusses at several moments in this chapter how visuals are taking on an increasing role of communicating on the web rather than just supplementing verbal text. I enjoyed his discussion of ekphrasis, or the technique of making verbal text as descriptive as possible to create visual images (56). Bolter plays with this concept throughout chapter 4 as a way of talking about the increasing responsibility visuals are taking on in digital media (again, as "communicators" and not just as "enhancers" of verbal text).

Bolter's claims here remind of a book by Gunther Kress and Theo VanLeeuwen, The Grammar of Visual Design. In this book they discuss the interplay of verbal and visual. Even the title plays with the intersection of visual and verbal. Another group of researchers, The New London Group, also discusses multimodal features of text. I am also reminded of Kostelnick and Robert's Designing Visual Language as a good reference.

As I think about my definition of writing, I would include visual aspects as well as alphabetic text as "writing." In addition, when one thinks of composing processes on the web, it is difficult NOT to include visuals. Especially in technical communication, understanding the impact of visuals is important to the overall message, whether the visual is seen as font sizes, types, and spacing, or graphics.


Technological Determinism

Blog Post 3: Do you believe that technology drives/determines the way we think, read, and communicate? Refer to readings in your answer. Include at least one relevant hyperlink. 250-300 words.

The readings this week provided interesting views on "technological determinism." The Chandler website summarizes many positions on technological determinism. The ones I want to address here include autonomy, neutrality, and the "technological imperative." First, my understanding of technological determinism is that it represents a theoretical perspective that technology strongly influences society--specifically our thoughts, language, and interactions with the world. If we agree that technology has such a strong influence, then we are giving it autonomy and power to act. Chandler mentioned how we can anthropomorphize technology and give it agency. When we say "google has changed the way we do research" or that "the web has changed the way I read", I think we are buying into the technological determinist viewpoint. Again, if we buy into that, we must inherently believe that technology is not neutral. If technology governs our actions, then it must have power. And, if we think "the web will continue to shape [xyz]," then we are suggesting there is a "technological imperative" in that some technologies will continue to shape society in profound ways.

Seeing these bold arguments about technological determinism makes me wonder about their validity. Do I believe that technology has changed my life, thinking, and actions so profoundly? I wouldn't say technology has taken over my life; I would say that it has made it easier in some ways and more complicated in other ways. However, when I read arguments, my reaction is to say "I do not believe in technological determinism."

What is interesting is that our other two articles for today suggest and provide support for a technological determinism point of view. Turkle talks about the ways people interact with their phones and PDAs instead of people; how our connections with others are mediated by little screens. Having experienced that, it is hard to deny. Our "connections" are mediated differently by these technologies. Carr talks about the ways internet research has made his work as a writer so much easier. He also mentions the ways he has difficulty reading linear texts after working so much with the web. His account provides evidence for technological determinism--web technology, in particular, has affected the way he reads and processes information.

In a couple of weeks we will begin to look at research about reading on the web, and we'll find that yes, reading patterns have changed when we move to online screens and non-linear organization of reading. In light of this evidence (both anecdotal and through research studies), it is difficult to deny the impact of the web in particular on our reading and writing practices. As I write this, however, I am reminded that when we talk about "technology," the challenge is to be specific rather than universal; to include evidence rather than assumptions. Chandler concludes that we are somewhere in the middle, where certainly, technology can affect change, but that certainly, we are still critical thinking human beings. After all, we are the ones creating and using the technologies. Chandler reminds us to address the complexities of technologies and avoid generalizations. I couldn't agree more.

Bolter and Hypertext

Blog Post 2: Bolter asks how writing spaces such as the scroll, codex, and book each "refashion its predecessor" (13). What does hypertext refashion? Integrate information from Bolter in your answer. Include at least one hyperlink.

Bolter's project, as I see it, is to conceptualize "writing space" in terms of history and materiality. The idea of "remediation" suggests that writing technology evolves, yet borrows from past writing technologies. He reviews the evolution of papyrus rolls to codex to printing press.

A few passages caught my attention this time around with Bolter. First, he defines text with computers and with print. Computer text has qualities of "flexibility, interactivity speed of distribution" (3) whereas print text has qualities of "stability and durability" (3). These are important characteristics in understanding writing spaces in online media vs. print media. He suggests that in today's world "we seem more impressed by the impermanence and changeability of text, and digital technology seems to reduce the distance between author and reader by turning the reader into an author herself" (4). This passage is characteristic of Bolter's understanding of writing on the web: he understands the new writing space to include the interchange of author and reader roles as well as interactive and changing text. These ideas form, I think, Bolter's understanding of "Writing Space." Elsewhere, for example, he talks about the ways that "voice" is altered through networked writing, welcoming changes to voice, whereas single texts have greater control over voice of the text (9).

Also characteristic of Bolter's understanding of writing space is the idea that "digital writing seems both old and new" (7). He says: "Although we began in the 1980s by using word processors and electronic documents, it has now become clear that we can use the computer to provide a writing surface with conventions different from those of print" (7). Again, there is a common link between old and new (computers as tools), but there is also something new (conventions specific to computer documents or web documents).

So what does hypertext refashion? In chapter 3, Bolter argues that hypertext remediates print. I believe he is using the terms "refashion" and "remediate" similarly; although he does provide a helpful definition of remediation on page 23: "Remediation is a process of cultural competition between or among technologies." Anyway, Bolter suggests that hypertext remediates print, and I believe this quote is worth stating in full:

"Hypertext in all its electronic forms--the World Wide Web as well as the many stand-along systems--is the remediation of print. Writers and designers promote hypertext as a means of improving on the older medium, or more precisely on the genres associated with the medium of print, such as the novel, the technical report, and the humanistic essay. Where printed genres are linear or hierarchical, hypertext is multiple and associative. Where a printed text is static, a hypertext responds to the reader's touch. The reader can move through a hypertext document in a variety of reading orders." (42)

If we understand hypertext as linking from one text to another (37), then hypertext represents, quite literally, a nonlinear textual form. The question is: even if print is written in linear form, does that mean readers read it that way? How many of us have read linear texts in nonlinear ways? We need to remember the role of the reader in our assumptions about texts. Perhaps hypertext simply makes links more visible. Have they always been there, in readers' handwritten notes? Or thoughts the reader might have about associations with other texts? Hypertext makes links visible, and facilitates connections more easily than print texts. In this way, hypertext is both old and new.

Middle Thoughts

Throughout this week I've been thinking about blogs and how I want to use this particular blog. Beyond our assigned readings for class, I think I will post ideas tangential yet still relevant to digital writing.

I'll start by talking about blogging further. One of the things that struck me about the Pew Internet study was how teens who blogged were considered to be "better writers" than teens who merely used social media. I find this to be somewhat true. After all, bloggers are usually conscientious, disciplined writers. They may use blogs to keep track of thoughts, share details, develop ideas--all behaviors of strong writers. Bloggers also must be keenly aware of audience, since blogs are meant to be public. These ideas about blogging and strong writing all make sense to me.

But certainly there are bloggers who use the public audience for other purposes. I'm thinking specifically about the popular blogger, dooce, who has capitalized on her blog and now uses it as her family's primary source of income. Dooce is enormously popular, and she gained popularity when she was fired for something she wrote on her blog. She now blogs about her daily life, and she gained even more attention when she began to share opinions about products and appliances. Readers of her blog spread the word on her opinions of various products. Suddenly, companies responded by providing her with new products to replace defective products. As well, advertisers sought to place ads on her blog.

Dooce's blog falls into the category of "mommy bloggers" who write about their lives, their kids, and their roles as mothers. Mommy bloggers have become enormously popular. And why not? Surely it helps to read about other mommys' experiences in the world. My husband shared this link with me that talks about the influence of mommy blogs on consumer markets: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/01/26/mommy-bloggers-general-mills/

I see this as perhaps an unintended result of blogs. Who would have thought they could be influential on consumer habits? What began as a personal yet private form of writing has now become commercial.

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