CompFAQ/Digital Writing

From Gerald R. Lucas
📝 CompFAQ » Digital Writing 📖

The Evolution and Dynamics of Digital Writing

Even though he wrote it in 1964, Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that “the medium is the message” has resonated with me since I first encountered it in Understanding Media.[1]

As a literary scholar, my concern was rarely about medium and always about the content. In the 1990s, when I spent most of my student days in graduate school, the Internet was a nascent realm full of possibilities if not of content. Our devices were still beige boxes on desks and cell phones were just starting to gain popularity. While I sometimes concerned myself with genre, most of my time was spent concentrating on the content of study, not its container. The digital slowly changed all of that.

Only when I began teaching new media did I start to consider another level of significance. McLuhan’s proclamation made me slowly realize that the container shapes our relationship to that which it contains, and it’s this relationship that shapes our reality more than the ideas it contains. Whoa, that’s quite the revelation for the newly-minted Ph.D. in literature. It’s almost a heresy.

Our evolving relationship with the media of the digital world make McLuhan’s observation even more relevant today than it was when he wrote it. While I still approach literary studies and literary criticism in traditional analytical and interpretative ways, I am now aware of the importance of considering medium as an equal layer of significance that is deserving of our critical attention.

A question, then, that has preoccupied me in another facet of my professional life is: how does medium affect written communication? As a corollary, do we experience text the same way on a screen as we do on paper? If not, we should consider—as writers in digital media—just what the most effective ways of writing are when it’s meant to be read on the screen.

Digital Literacy

Digital literacy is a multifaceted concept that encompasses a range of skills, knowledge, and competencies required to effectively navigate, understand, and utilize digital technologies and information in the digital age. Digital literacy can be defined as the ability to use digital devices, communication tools, and networks to access, evaluate, create, and communicate information effectively. It goes beyond mere technical proficiency and encompasses critical thinking, problem-solving, and ethical considerations in the digital realm.

Defining Digital Writing

In the digital era, the landscape of communication and expression has undergone a paradigmatic shift due to the advent of digital technologies. This transformation has given rise to the discipline of digital writing, which integrates traditional writing principles with new media, technology, and participation.

Digital writing, in essence, refers to the utilization of digital tools, platforms, and media to create, convey, and disseminate written content. This form of writing transcends the conventional boundaries of print media, encompassing textual elements, visual components, hyperlinks, multimedia, and interactivity. It is a dynamic and adaptive mode of communication that has become an essential facet of contemporary literacy. Simply put, digital writing is writing composed, created, and read in digital environments.

Theoretical Foundations and Practical Implications

The theoretical framework underpinning digital writing draws from various disciplines, including media studies, communication theory, semiotics, and rhetoric. The advent of digital writing has engendered an array of novel concepts such as hypertextuality, multimodality, and remediation. Scholars like Jay David Bolter have expounded upon the notion of “remediation,” which posits that every new medium draws upon and refashions elements of previous media.[2] This interplay between old and new media is integral to understanding the dynamics of digital writing.

Digital writing is deeply intertwined with practical considerations that extend beyond mere technological proficiency. It requires an understanding of audience engagement, usability, and information architecture. Moreover, the ability to navigate diverse digital platforms and tools, from websites and blogs to social media and multimedia software, is vital for effective digital literacy, which emphasizes the importance of this skill set, suggesting that digital literacy encompasses the ability to use digital technology, communication tools, or networks to locate, evaluate, use, and create information.

Methodology in Digital Writing

Methodological approaches in digital writing vary based on the intended purpose and audience. One prevalent approach is user-centered design, which places the audience at the forefront of the writing process. This entails crafting content that is accessible, engaging, and responsive to user needs. Furthermore, the practice of collaborative writing is amplified in digital environments. The concept of “crowdsourcing,” where multiple contributors collectively generate content, exemplifies this collaborative ethos. Jeff Howe defines crowdsourcing as "the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call."[3]

Interdisciplinary Applications

The impact of digital writing extends beyond the confines of English and writing studies, permeating various academic disciplines. In scientific research, digital writing facilitates the dissemination of findings through online journals, blogs, and multimedia presentations. In history, digitized archives and interactive timelines enable scholars to present historical narratives in engaging and accessible formats. Similarly, disciplines such as marketing and advertising leverage digital writing to craft persuasive and visually captivating messages that resonate with digital-savvy audiences.

The field of digital humanities represents a prime example of interdisciplinary collaboration in digital writing. Scholars in this domain harness digital tools to analyze, visualize, and interpret cultural artifacts. The Digital Humanities Manifesto underscores the transformative potential of digital technologies in reshaping humanistic inquiry and pedagogy.[4]

Examples of Interdisciplinary Applications

History: In the field of history, digital writing can be exemplified through projects like the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project, which recreates the experience of attending sermons at St. Paul’s Cathedral in early modern London through 3D models, textual analysis, and auditory simulations.

Science Communication: The website I F**ing Love Science combines engaging writing with multimedia elements to make complex scientific concepts accessible and engaging for a broad audience.

Literary Studies: Project Mailer presents various projects centered around the twentieth-century writer and public intellectual Norman Mailer. It contains original research and scholarship contributed by scholars in the Mailer community.

In the contemporary digital landscape, the discipline of digital writing holds immense significance. It blends traditional writing principles with new media possibilities, necessitating an intricate understanding of both literary craftsmanship and technological dynamics. As graduate students seeking to engage with the intricacies of digital writing, embracing its theoretical foundations, practical applications, and methodological considerations will undoubtedly facilitate effective communication and innovation in the ever-evolving digital world.


  1. McLuhan, Marshall (2003) [1964]. Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press.
  2. Bolter, Jay David; Grusin, Richard (1999). Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  3. Howe, Jeff (June 2, 2006). "Crowdsourcing: A Definition". Crowdsourcing Blog. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  4. Presner, Todd; Schnapp, Jeffrey; Lunenfeld, Peter (June 22, 2009). "The Digital Humanities Manifesto" (PDF). Todd Presner. 2.0. Retrieved 2018-08-22.
Written: 2002, 2022; Revised: 10-6-2023; Version: Beta 0.7 💬