Digital Writing's Three-Dimensional Experience

Digital Writing's Three-Dimensional Experience
Photo by Anton Koch / Unsplash

What is your understanding of “technical writing in the digital age” at this point?

I’m of the mixed generation that both used and didn’t use computers or technology to “write” during their school years. Marc Prensky would describe me as a "digital immigrant." Computers were just coming into the schools when I was in the third grade, and by the time I graduated high school, it was more common for a desktop to be in each home. Because of this, I was under the impression that technical writing was similar to other writing in that it was largely two-dimensional. By that I mean, there were not layers upon layers of information readily available.

In fact, I am currently a technical writer for an airline and for the most part, we treat our projects as two-dimensional documents. Where each manual or document within our document library has references, it does not, however, utilize digital writing characteristics discussed in these readings. That is not to say we do not use certain elements such as hyperlinks, our use merely applies to navigational purposes within the individual document versus connecting to other manuals or sources.

After being involved in this program, the view of what technical writing is has changed. When looking at technical writing through a digital lens, it appears to have a more three-dimensional appearance and flow of information. We as users not only move up and down the page or screen of words, but also in and out and around the levels of information by way of links and various media. Technical writing in the digital age allows writers to better engage with the needs of the audience versus just relaying technical information.

What did you glean from your reading?

Writing of any kind is a difficult task, but when it applies to technical writing, the main goal is to help audiences better digest the information. But prior to digital writing, I would say that the audience on a broader scale was not a major focus for technical writers unless the audience was directly involved or knowledgeable on the subject at hand.

Digital writing can be considered tech writing 2.0 because its goal would be to increase the size of the audience. This is primarily done using different types of “digital tools, platforms, and media.” One of the examples used in the readings was I F**ing Love Science, but another example would be National Geographic Kids or any website used to instruct a user. Both of these examples take complex topics and make them easy to digest for their audience by keeping the information relevant and engaging.

Another aspect that digital writing has improved technical writing and its relation to audience is the use of layering of information. This is done by the using “novel concepts such as hypertextuality, multimodality, and remediation," which is DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl and Hicks discuss in their book, Because Digital Writing Matters. These concepts allows for a richer user experience and in turn, helps to reach and engage a larger audience. If the goal of technical writing has always been inform its reader, then digital writing has taken it to the next level by creating a more 3D experience.

What did you discover that you didn’t know?

I wasn’t aware of just how much actually writing and communication happens during any given day. When you think about how texting, X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, YouTube, podcasts, etc., utilize different forms of media, it was interesting to see how they all have a role within technical writing itself. I never really considered all forms of communication being under the guise of “writing” or that writing was that ambiguous.

Dánielle DeVoss, co-author of Because Digital Writing Matters, said this about "writing" in relation to other digital types of communication,  “Writing, students note, is something they do in school. What they do with computers outside of school is something else.” This statement hit me because I never viewed these other types of “writing” as such. I viewed them more as verbal communications and less as a relation to writing itself. Looking at how these other forms of media are used, it is clear that they all play a part in the 3D aspect of digital writing. We are also, it seems, just scratching the surface of how technical writing will evolve.

Which seem most applicable to your interests as a digital writer?

The parts that seem the most applicable to my interests would be how-to’s and informational writing, particularly with different types of media. As I work my way through the program, I have found myself leaning more towards creative content writing within the adventure bicycling community. I idea that digital writing has a 3D experience invites users to become part of the conversation rather than only being involved as the reader.

Nate Cole

Nate Cole

I work for an airline as the Publications and Records Manager. When I'm not working, I can be found either hanging out with my family or on a bike tooling around...preferably both!
Fairbanks, Alaska