Writing for the Social Network
A long time ago, in a galazy far, far away I graduated with a degree in English from Saint Louis University. My senior year I took a class on the history of the English language. This class still stands out in my mind, for two reasons. The first reason was my floppy disk crashed and I lost the electronic version of my thesis for the class. Thankfully, I printed an unedited version out prior to the disk going belly up. It was several versions older but it saved me loads of time and stress than recreating the entire thing. The second reason I remember the class so well was actual course content. I can remember being completely interested in the evolution of the English language from Old, Middle, Modern English and how exploration, immigration, and population shifts have created completely different English languages.
Yet just like the evolution of the English language, writing is evolving too. David Lee King writes in his post, “Librarians were trained to Write the Wrong Way,” that he learned to write academic papers and other “highly useful stuff…like how to graph out a sentence to discover proper sentence structure.” I learned the same things. When I am with my friends and family, my diction, accent, word choice, etc. is different than when I am at work or speaking professionally. Whether it is on paper as Scott describes, a computer, or a cell phone, the medium by which we communicate dictates our writing style.
We still must learn to write formal academic type of papers and articles with proper structure and citations. But we also must learn how to write for other areas, such as the online world. We used to call it writing for the web. But now days there are different styles of writing for the web that are considered the gold standard for that medium. What works on a web site, will not always work on a blog, Facebook, and Twitter.
David calls it writing like he speaks. He says conversational, social writing is the type of writing we want on the web, especially on blogs and social media spaces. Yet if you have been trained to write formally as David has, you may find it difficult to adjust your writing style based on the medium. Even he says, “I work hard at writing like I speak.”
I create websites (not as much as I used to) and writing for a regular website (not a blog or any socially type of site) has evolved with main pages having one or two word listings or clusters of words and pictures as the norm. On internal pages where more information is shared sentences are short and to the point within one or two equally short paragaphs. The wording, sentance structure, and lay out are different than what you would see in a blog.
In a blog, most people are coming to read and possibly share or discuss your thoughts. Therefore the writing is longer than a traditional website and the style is almost as if you can hear the writer having a conversation with you. The style is different but it is still professional. The Unofficial Apple Weblog, is a professional site where writers converse (often passionately) with readers through the blog and comments. Some of the posts are more straight forward while others use the speaking style.
Facebook is the king of conversational writing. There is a word limit on posts. So conversational writing on Facebook is not as long as a blog post, but it well exceeds the 140 character limit of Twitter. Again even the most professional of sites adjust their writing styles for Facebook. The Cleveland Clinic’s Facebook posts are written in a far different style than the pages on their website, press releases, and certainly articles authored by their physicians. The Cleveland Clinic uses their Facebook page to reach out and engage the community in health and medicine and their Facebook writing style reflects that.
Where Facebook is the king of conversational writing, Twitter is the king of the one liners. Writing for Twitter is vastly different than anything else (with the possible exception of texting). Anybody who doesn’t think it is hard to squeeze interesting and valuable information into 140 characters or less, has not tweeted for long. It is hard and takes a lot of practice. Not only is the character limit a requirement, there are definite social norms by which you converse. Not adhering to these norms can cause your tweet to go on unnoticed (best case scenario) or get you in a whole lot of trouble.
Good writing, either formal papers or online posts, takes practice. Being observant, continually reading and writing, helps develop and sharpen your skills, especially in the online world. Writing is a living breathing communication method and it changes with time and technology. I am sure in 1440 people discussed quality and style as the printing press changed the way things were written.