Rhetoric and Composition/Formality
Many readers and writers alike feel that the process of writing on the Web is both a blessing and a curse. The speed, utility, and flexibility of such writing is clearly a benefit. Yet, and perhaps as a result, formal writing style, developed voice, and common literary conventions seem, at times, to be edging gradually towards extinction. The point is that we, as communicators, should still make use of consideration, forethought, reflection and careful editing. This increases the likelihood that we are not misunderstood, disregarded, ridiculed or neglected.
The following entries will attempt to provide some tips to consider when composing a piece of writing that will be presented or transmitted on the Internet.
Establishing and Using Personality
Writing for the web generally allows more freedom to let your personality shine through than writing for print publications. Because oftentimes readers are allowed to comment or give immediate feedback, a sense of intimacy is created between writer and reader that allows for a casual, personal tone – your readers become your online friends. This has its positives and negatives. One positive is that you end up with a more creative, relaxed piece of prose. A negative is that it is easier to become lax on mechanics and the level of formality still necessary in effective writing.
Because of the abundance of online writing, it becomes necessary to create a unique personality. Readers are only a click away from disregarding your online writing if they find it stale or difficult to read.
Remember that because your audience on the web is so large, it is easier to find readers who will care about what you have to say. Don't be afraid to be bold and let your personality shine through – your audience will come to you if you have something interesting to say.
Engaging in Online Conversation
There are a number of ways to engage in online conversation. For instance, there are mailing lists, discussion boards, forums, blogs, chat rooms and instant messaging. There are differences and rules when writing for each venue because each one serves its own purpose.
Mailing lists often allow users to keep contact with one another through emails. Individual users can use mailing lists for both their personal and professional life to keep updated on industry events, job listings, blog subscriptions, particular interests such as recipes, hobbies, fashion, etc. You can often subscribe to mailing lists on individual/professional websites.
Discussion boards are great for keeping up with current events, engaging in a dialogue about popular topics, solving technical problems and meeting new people. There are hundreds of thousands of discussion boards on the web and they can be found anywhere from a personal to a professional website. Once you find a discussion board, review its popularity. You know it's popular if the same users are returning to comment on what others have said about them.
Chat and instant messaging allow for immediate online communication with one or many users. Chat allows users to enter certain domains (depending on their interests) and then begin conversations with a number of users simultaneously. If a user then decides that he/she enjoys talking to one person from this chat room, they then may decide to engage in an instant message conversation, which is a one on one conversation either with someone you do or do not know.
Although these are only three types of online discussion, there are others depending on what sites you visit. Also, remember if you wish to engage in online conversation, there are rules of online etiquette that need to be followed. The sections below offer advice on other various parts of writing for the web.
Use of Active Voice
Web documents, unless intended otherwise should remain in the active voice. Please refer to the Active vs. Passive voice section of this Wikibook below for more in depth explanation.
Responses and Flaming
Flaming is responding to someone online in an aggressive, insulting manner. It is the equivalent of a verbal lashing and often happens in chats or discussion boards. It seems easier to participate in this kind of behavior online because there is freedom to openly express opinions with little supervision, repercussions often aren't immediate, and the dispute is not face-to-face. Although the instinct to participate in flaming may take over when provoked by the diverse opinions brought about by the nature of online conversation, it is in poor taste and will destroy your credibility. Flaming is also a poor argument tool; it would be better to refrain and stick to facts or well-planned logical responses.