Digital Writing

Digital writing is any type of communications on the Web. Writing on the Web has special techniques.

Writing and Feng Shui

“Scattered words and phrases hide your word design; it may be time for a writing makeover. Rewriting eLearning content starts by using your word-processing tools to spot wordiness. With practice, concise writing will become your natural style.”

Are you a word hoarder?
Are you a word hoarder?

Do you think most learners actively read and engage with the text in your eLearning courses? Or do they skim through walls of text just to click through the slides and get to the “good” parts (animations, videos, etc.)?

Words are a pillar of good design. To grab learners at “Hello,” we must start designing our words. Like many writers, I find certain aspects of writing and proofreading are excruciating. Deadlines and client constraints cause me to take shortcuts. Careful revision is sometimes the easy sacrifice. But I found an answer, and in this article I offer it to you. You can put it to work today, using a tool you already own.

Writing and feng shui

In our field, things change fast. More often than not, we juggle multiple aspects of our projects. Content writing can become little more than a “copy and paste” job, based on what subject-matter experts provide. After all, writing and proofreading are not always quite as much fun as creating a visually attractive slide, a great interaction, a video, or even a game.

To leave our learners with something of substance, we need to pay more attention to our text, whether that’s text on a slide, instructions for a learning interaction, or something else. If we want learners to actually read what we write, we must write, read, and revise. Editing does not have to be drudgery.

“Feng shui” is an ancient practice based on selecting the optimal arrangement to encourage positive energy flow. Interior designers have used this phrase to describe perfect placements of objects and surfaces. Feng shui, though often thought of as a philosophy that can be applied to architecture and interior design, has a message for writers as well. Instructional designers can borrow ideas from feng shui for writing to encourage information flow and keep the learner reading.

Look at your content with an attitude of feng shui. Remove word clutter. Refocus your writing. Where to begin? I want to reintroduce you to your word processing software.

Declutter with find and replace

Many of us, myself included, fall in love with what we write, and love is blind. Lucky for us, MS Word, and every other word processor, has a “find and replace” function. Use “find and replace” to cut through your mind’s ability to ignore writing weak spots. Bruce Ross-Larson, in his book Edit Yourself (see “Reference” at the end of this article), helps content writers find the words and phrases scattered across your work that derail your learner’s engagement. With the help of Larson and other writing mentors we can clean up the clutter.

Five red flags to find and revise

Search your writing and find these five red flags to clean up the clutter.

  1. Titles and headingsFirst look at your titles. Titles are the front door to your content. Well-formatted headlines are inviting while all capitals yell at your guests. As instructional designers we serve the client. Sometimes clients have text-formatting preferences that may not follow grammar standards. Start with a unified style guide combining the client’s wishes with good grammar.

    Try this: Headlines or titles have three formats, according to the newest style-guide for digital media, The Yahoo! Style Guide. The editors suggest you choose between sentence case (written like a sentence), all upper case, or title case (capitalize all the words except tiny words: “a,” “an,” “and,” “at,” “but,” “by,” “for,” “in,” “nor,” “of,” “on,” “or,” “so,” “the,” “to,” “up,” and “yet). To create clutter-free writing, use title case. Write a title or headline that draws your learner into the content and be consistent across the slides with your title format.

  2. ItIt can be a problem. While many explanations tell us why it can make writing look primitive, focus on ambiguity. If it does not refer to a specific subject and only to a thought in the writer’s head, we leave too many words with too little meaning. Starting a sentence with “It is . . .” is a warning sign for word clutter.

    Try this: Find every instance of it in your text using your word processor’s Search and Replace function. Look at each time you used it in a sentence. Ask: Where is the subject of it? Where is the location of it? What does it mean? Can we cut or reword it?

  3. There isThere is can be as problematic the word “it.” Expletives, “it is,” “there is,” and “there are,” add unnecessary words and weaken the message. Readers prefer simple subject and verb construction—in that order.

    Try this: Search for “There is” or “There are” in your text. See if you can reword by putting the real subject first. According to The Grammar Girl, aka Mignon Fogarty, “The trick to figuring out what verb to use is to find the real subject of the sentence.”

  4. The___of / Of___the Nominalizations and unnecessary infinitive phrases like the___of and of___the can create word confusion. You want your readers to flow through your eLearning content and learn. Look at your writing and see if you have a sentence like this: In the field of retail sales an associate must learn customer service. Revise, eliminating the/of:  A retail sales associate must learn customer service.

    Try this: Search your content for the word, “of.” Find how “of” is used and see if you can revise or remove unnecessary words.

  5. To and more . . .Stop writing in circles and be direct. Circumlocution is using many words when a few would do. Instead of: Your manager has the ability to make your work productive. Write: Your manager can make your work productive.

    Try this: Look for words or phrases like “to,” “it is,” “that is,” “that are,” “in accordance with,” “on the occasion of,” “at this/at that,” “is ___ to,” “up the,” “out the,” and “who are.” Find and revise redundant phrases into succinct sentences. Never use extra words without adding extra meaning.

Scattered words and phrases hide your word design; it may be time for a writing makeover. Rewriting eLearning content starts by using your word processing tools to spot wordiness. With practice, concise writing will become your natural style. For help rearranging your words and phrases, consult Purdue OWL, Grammar Girl, and Edit Yourself (see “Reference” below).

Brian Carroll, in Writing for Digital Media (see “Reference”), says, “Hemingway described prose not as interior decoration but as architecture.” Feng shui is not so much interior decorating as it is architecture. Architects who use feng shui do so with the intent of building toward positive progressive energy. In the same way, well-constructed content ebbs and flows, providing learners with a satisfying finish.


Barr, C. (ed.) The Yahoo! Style Guide: Writing for an Online Audience. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011.

Carroll, B. Writing for Digital Media. New York, NY: Routledge, 2010.

Grammar Girl: Oddness When You Start a Sentence with “There Is”: Quick and Dirty Tips. 3 June 2011.

Purdue OWL: Conciseness. Undated.

Ross-Larson, Bruce. Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words.
New York: Norton, 1996.

Shaughnessy, M. P. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Article is from Learning Solution Magazine Written in July 13 by Lisa M. Russell.

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“Why?”  My Word for 2014

“Why?” My Word for 2014

w2c8otnonp8njtpnbgdhWords for the New Year. Social media and business expert, Chris Brogan has three words he focuses on each year. I just have one for 2014, “Why?”

It is easy to come up with “What” and “How”  is  simple. Just learn it and apply it. “Why?” Now that takes thought. Most people, most businesses, never start with “Why?” they just DO something after figuring out the  “What” and the “How.” Listen to Simon Sinek explain his theory of “Start with Why” Sinek’s new ideas fascinate me, but they resonant with something I learned a long time ago.

It is all about purpose. You remember, The Purpose-Driven Life? Rick Warren’s seminal book subtitled, “What on earth am I here for?” changed my thought life. I started looking for purpose in everything I do. The purpose driven mentality began driving my life. It keeps me centered and somewhat calm in a storm. Lest you be deceived, understand,  I am not perfect in the practice.

Recently, I got involved in something that was not purpose driven. It was redundant and purpose-less. I could not find the answer to my question, “WHY?” However, I have a strong work ethic and I am loyal to a fault. Often my time is over before I am ready to go, so I stayed longer than I was supposed to and it ended up messy. I do this with volunteer work, people I am only supposed to know for a season, and projects I should have never taken. Then I get mad and hurt, when all along, it was not part of the “WHY” for my life.

You will know your “Why?” and your purpose by the way it makes you feel. It is a deep longing that keeps dragging you back.  You can answer one question and discover your purpose. My sister asked that question over a year ago, “Lisa, if money were no object and you could spend the rest of your life doing anything, what would it be?”

Years and heartache have finally brought me to accept my “Why?” It is an honorable “Why.” I embrace it. It is my “Why?”  It is my purpose. What’s yours? Why not spend some time thinking of “Why?” instead of making hopeless resolutions? Why? Because when you figure out your purpose, your lifeless resolutions will fade away while your “Why?” guides your journey.


Digital Rhetoric: Doing Things with Words Online

Digital Rhetoric: Doing Things with Words Online

It is with great joy and relief that I can post my capstone, “Digital Rhetoric: Doing Things with Words Online”.  The free download is located in the digital commons on Kennesaw State University library site. I would love to hear your thoughts on this project. Here is the abstract:


“Digital Rhetoric: Doing Things with Words Online”.

It is through rhetorical principles applied to digital writing that online writers can be heard above the din confronting weary online browsers. The synergy between classical rhetoric and new media practices leads to persuasive and memorable digital writing. Despite the hurried clip and the complex nature of technology, grounding writing in firm rhetorical concepts can produce compelling online content. The purpose of this capstone project is to teach specific audiences how to do things with words online through a series of three modules whose unifying themes include the broad topics of targeting niche audiences, persuasive writing, and using the digital medium of communications.

Twitter 101: A Series on Authentic Tweets

Twitter 101: A Series on Authentic Tweets

Twitter 101

One of the comments I received after my workshop, Connecting in an Authentic Way, was an alert to write this post – actually, a series of posts on how to use Twitter to help you get your words out.

This idea was spurred by this honest response to my survey:

The workshop was alot like the internet itself-all over the place. Their seemed to be no real, clear cut dissemination of info, just a bunch of links with one sentence summations about how much Lisa liked them. 

Thank you for this honest response! I appreciate honesty. I was aware that the presentation was all over the place. It is important to me to get it right, even after the workshop is over. The comment forced my hand away from my graduate thesis to my keyboard. I am writing a series of posts to supplement and strengthen what we started last Saturday in the workshop.

Many pre-workshop questions were about Twitter. A topic worthy of a series of blogs to help me use the tool better and maybe it will help someone else. Therefore, Twitter 101. Our class is in session. Please tell me what you think, respond with questions, and lets learn from each other.

I found this comprehensive overview of Twitter on Slideshare. So our first lesson in Twitter 101 will be this wonderful summary from  Bryony Taylor.

Our next class in Twitter 101 will be, “Using your Twitter, a Micro-blog as a Micro-bulletin”

Remember, it is all about relationship! Share this one of your friends so they can participate in our discussion about Twitter.

View more PowerPoint from Bryony Taylor
Digital Native, Digital Immigrant, Digital Wisdom

Digital Native, Digital Immigrant, Digital Wisdom

One professor lamented while taking the Quality Matters Certification workshop, “I need to take a sabbatical just to learn all this technology. I will never keep up with my digital natives.”  This instructor has a bigger problem than her lag in technology skills; she does not understand her students. A “digital native” is a limited description of current students in an online or a traditional classroom.

In 2001, Marc Prensky invented the term digital native to describe the generations born after 1980 and the “first generations to grow up with this new technology.” He referenced neurologist Dr. Bruce D. Perry of Baylor College of Medicine to support his theory that “today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors” (Prensky, Digital Natives: Part Two). Prensky generalized digital immigrants by saying, “As Digital Immigrants learn—like all immigrants, some better than others—to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their ‘accent,’ that is, their foot in the past” (Prensky).

Prensky’s motivation, while academically altruistic, may also have reflected a vested interest (Prensky, n.d.). He built an industry around the message that educators need to learn the language of the “digital natives.” “This is not just a joke,” he (2001 2) said. “It’s very serious, because the single biggest problem facing education today is that our digital immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language [that of a pre-digital age], are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.” Prensky implored the digital immigrants to lose the accent.

According to Jeremy Mims (n.d.), digital native is a term “coined by Marc Prensky in 2001 (likely with the best intentions). But really, it’s just being used as a catch-all demographic for young people, and a way for people who don’t actually understand technology to sling _____ in sales meetings to those who know even less.”

Labels used for groups of people are never definitive. Why are natives those born after 1980? Why not 1984? 1990? Why not the year Facebook launched—2004? Labels limit, especially if they are misplaced. Even worse is being defined by your accent.

Labeling students as “digital natives” and instructors as “digital immigrants” places unnecessary barriers on the already difficult work of online education. It hinders innovation by believing less of yourself as an instructor with digital wisdom – with years of experience.

Labels help us organize: they help us store messy things in neat packages. Labels are great for files and boxes, but not so great for people. And so it is with the idea of a digital native. A person demonstrating the type of digital prowess Prensky talks about may be a 65-year-old professor who knows more about writing in the digital environment than her 18-year-old first-year student. The “younger generation” may be more comfortable with technology, but they may also lack the digital literacy of someone older and wiser.

Another assumption that was shared by several of the seasoned professors in my Build a Course workshop was that discussion boards did not mimic a face-to-face class interaction. Some of the class seemed to agree and no solutions were offered. A silent concession was made to the QM requirement for discussion boards, but (wink-wink) discussion boards are not really effective. The inference, online discussions are not authentic or productive. Personal experience and progressive online teaching tactics tell me otherwise.

E-Learning: Just as Good as Face to Face?

E-Learning: Just as Good as Face to Face?

“In some circles, online education has a bad reputation,” says Eric Kelderman in the Online Learning edition of Chronicles of Higher Education.  He reports that some say the for-profit online educators are,  “pariahs of students for their federal financing” and “the dark underbelly of higher education.”  Kelderman also reports inflammatory remarks made by Senator Tom Harkin (Iowa – D) calling Bridgepoint Education a “scam” based on high dropout rates and low per-student spending along with “eye-popping executive compensation” (Kelderman B4).

In a time when our country is desperate for flourishing for-profit industry, headlines shout a recent report by a government oversight committee threating to investigate a successful for-profit online university. The fact is, most online colleges are for-profit. Tuition is higher because they are not government subsidized.  In this economy, government and government-supported institutions would benefit from the taxes gleaned from accredited for-profit colleges and universities.  They are pumping tax dollars into the economy enabling the subsidizing the state-funded and federally supported institutions. There are enough investigators, accreditation committees, and politicians looking into these issues and in the end, the market economy will determine if students are getting a valuable degree from online and for-profit institutions.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is quick to highlight the controversy a headlines in the Online Learning issue and offers a wide variety of articles representing the current attitude in the academe toward distance learning. In the Online Learning issue both sides are presented, including one professor declaring she will no longer teach online.  Nancy Bunge, a professor of writing, rhetoric, and American culture at Michigan State University says, “ …Perhaps they will eventually find a way to invest its processes with the sense of shared humanity that binds together students and teachers in successful classes. Until that moment arrives, I’ll leave online teaching to others” (Burge B36).

The Chronicle of Higher Education had many articles touting the effectiveness of distance learning for foreign language and art instruction, while showing how American service members studying on the battlefield. The Online Learning issue offered practical teaching tactics such as using Twitter to get immediate feedback in a distance-learning situation (Mendenhall B25).

A study by The Sloan Consortium reports, “While over two-thirds of academic leaders believe that online is ‘‘just as good as’’ or better, this means that one-third of all academic leaders polled continue to believe that the learning outcomes for online courses are inferior to those for face-to-face instruction (Allen 9).  Unexpectedly, some of these negative attitudes were discovered among academics positioned to revolutionize online pedagogy – those who are trained to teach online.


 Works Cited

“6 Online Learning Trends.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 11th ser. 11 (2011): B20-21. Print.

Allen, J. Elaine. “Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011 | The Sloan Consortium®.” The Sloan Consortium® | Individuals, Institutions and Organizations Committed to Quality Online Education. Babson Survey Research Group Babson College, 2011. Web. 07 Dec. 2011. <>.

Bunge, Nancy. “Why I No Longer Teach Online.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 11th ser. 11 (2011): B36. Print.

Isaacson, Walter. “Chapter 49.” Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print. Audio Book

Isaacson, Walter. “Chapter 51.” Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print. Audio Book

Isaacson, Walter. “Chapter 52.” Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print. Audio Book

Isaacson, Walter. “Chapter 54.” Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print. Audio Book

Kelderman, Eric. “Oversight on the Rise.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 11th ser. Nov (2011): B4-B5. Print.

Mendenhall, Robert W. “How Technology Can Improve Online Learning – and Learning in General.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 11th ser. 11 (2011): B23-25. Print.

Mims, J. “The Term “Digital Natives” –” Own Local – A Newspaper & Local Market Software Company. Web. 07 Dec. 2011. <>.

Parry, Marc. “Online-Course Enrollments Grow, but at a Slower Pace. Is a Plateau Approaching? – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.” Home – The Chronicle of Higher Education. 9 Nov. 2011. Web. 07 Dec. 2011. <>.

Parry, Marc. “Preventing Online Dropouts: Does Anything Work?” Wired Campus. The Chronicles of Higher Education, 22 Sept. 2010. Web. 7 Dec. 2011. <>

Prensky, Mark. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” On the Horizon 9.5 (2001): 1-6. Print.

Prensky, Mark. “Digital Natives Digital Immigrants, Part II: Do They Really Think Differently?” On the Horizon 9.6 (2001): 1-9. 2001. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. <,_Digital_Immigrants_-_Part2.pdf, p. 1%u20139.>.

Prensky, Mark. “H. Sapiens Digital: From Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom.” Journal of Online Education (2009): 5. Web.

Rich RiceTexas Tech University PhD. Program. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. <>. Podcast introducing Dr. Rice to explain his research interests.

“The Blackboard.” Web page. MEAPA. 5 Dec. 2011. Web.


*Steve Jobs often used this phrase when he was introducing the iPod, iPad, the iPhone, and other innovations. He always saved the best for last and introduced it by saying, “And that’s not all . . .”

One Powerful Way to Make Your Online Writing Jump

One Powerful Way to Make Your Online Writing Jump

Fish Out of Screen
Digital writing that jumps at your audience.


Thousands of messages attack your potential readers every day. With every email, every search, every billboard – your target audience is assaulted. People are tired of everyone screaming at them for 30 seconds of attention. How can you rise above the noise and reach your audience? Speak softly and connect heart to heart.

My wise mentor once told me if I only wanted to reach someone’s head, then write from my head. However, if I wanted to touch a life – speak to the heart. To speak to the heart, you have to write from the heart. Tell your story. Here is my short story to begin 2012.

I have never enjoyed a two-week break from work more than I have this year. I left my office on December 16th and will return next week. I usually work myself to exhaustion on my time off with home projects, left-over work, or freelance work. I always  have another writing project for my Masters degree to finish, but this year – I just did nothing. This so against my strong work ethic that I struggled with guilt, but I needed the rest from everything work, academic, or home related. Almost time to go back to work and I feel – ready. My thoughts are clear and I see what I was missing.

Part of my need for rest is that this spring semester at KSU is going to be a busy one. I am working on my last phase of my Masters thesis (my practicum capstone). In addition to writing about what I am doing, I have to lead three workshops as part of my capstone. It is stressful and exhilating at the time. In addition to my normal workload, I do freelance work as a marketer/consultant.  I tend to go full-steam ahead into any project and that leads to a heavy workload. The thing that suffers is my own writing.

I was reading about online writing and digital rhetoric – the subject of my research, writing, and workshops this spring and it hit me. I am not even practicing what I am writing about – that is writing in the digital environment. How can I speak to this with authority unless I am working at it everyday? I had abandoned this blog. So, I decided to start 2012 doing what I spend so much time thinking and talking about – how to write better online. I want to share what I have been learning about using words that jump out of the computer screen and into my reader’s heart. One of the most powerful ways to do this is to tell a story. The most authentic story is your own. This blog is my story.