Exploring Technical Writing in the Digital Age

Person writing in notebook with cell phone in hand.

Preparing Students for Technical Writing in a Digital Age

I work in a brand new program at Georgia Southwestern State University: the Communication and Emerging Media program. There are currently two full-time faculty members running the program, including myself, and I am the media studies side of that duo. We are getting to hire a third faculty member next year to help with our growing work load (yay!). Some of the courses that I teach include Media Criticism, Games & Culture, Sports Communication, and Creating for Online Media. In particular, Creating for Online Media, stands out in my mind as being one of the most applicable (really, they all are) course to discuss this topic with.

My Creating for Online Media course has students doing two major projects during the semester: a group project with a local organization as a mini-media PR firm, and a second individual project with a local non-profit creating a video essay on a given topic related to the non-profit’s mission. In the organization project of the semester, students often make profile stories, social media posts, small video essays or commercials, infographics, or podcast episodes. These projects lend themselves well to the topic of digital writing in educational settings. Dr. Lucas presents the definition of digital writing as: “writing composed, creating, and read in digital environments.” This also fits well with Devoss, Eidman-Aadahl, and Hicks’ definition: “compositions created with, and oftentimes for reading or viewing on, a computer or other device that is connected to the Internet,” (7). Further, Devoss, et al. argue for digital writing being a contemporary form of both skill and communication that students should be encouraged to not only learn the how-to aspects but also the critical thinking and literacy skills attached to these digital forms of communication. While I believe that in my Creating for Online Media course I do some of this work, improvement can be had.

For example, I tend to focus on the how-to aspects of creating these different types of media projects. Use of equipment, learning to edit, branding that fits the organization are all examples of the how-to knowledge I impart. However, this tends to fit technical writing more than digital writing as it doesn’t focus on the literacy and critical thinking skills. Dr. Lucas defines technical writing as “a specialized form of communication which conveys complex information, concepts, and procedures.” I need to find a stronger way to blend technical and digital writing together to be a stronger professor for this class.

In other classes, I do focus more on the literacy and social skills of the information I am attempting to provide. For example, in my Gender and Communication class, I work on students building their auto-ethnographic skills to see how they understand and “do” their own gender. We talk about different applications of gender in different circumstances and I encourage students to provide their own examples related to concepts we consider. Then I ask them to put the pieces of the puzzle together into both written and creative projects. Here, I focus more on the digital writing process and less on the technical.

At this point, my biggest realization is not that I haven’t been doing one or the other, but that I haven’t been doing a blended approach at all. This ultimately seems like a disservice to my students. There is room for both in all classes: understanding the technical part of concepts and procedures and also being able to use the concepts and procedures in a way that helps with digital literacy and critical thinking.

I am going to attempt to fix this in my current semester. However, in spring, I am teaching an introduction to journalism course that I think would be a great opportunity to go full force on this blending approach. We will be covering information that would fall more into the #techwriting category such as different types of journalism, techniques for writing for different platforms, and research methodologies of journalism. Students will also be working with different departments on campus and local organizations to create a variety of news packages in written, video, and digital platform versions. I will get a chance to practice more blended technical writing and critical thinking approaches with journalism AND my students will get to learn some technical writing (who, what, where, why, when) of the inverted pyramid style that much of journalism focuses on.

One of the most enlightening topics that the Devoss, et al. chapter brought up was that we already do a lot of digital writing in our everyday lives (7). Like the students they mention, I was also not thinking about the amount of writing that goes into texting, emails, and the like. I’m going to count it now as part of the write everyday practice many academics choose to participate in.

Works Cited

Devoss, Danielle Nicole, et al. Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments. John, Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2010.

Lucas, George R. “What is Technical Writing.” grlucas, https://grlucas.net/grl/CompFAQ/Technical_Writing. Accessed 5 October 2023.

Lucas, George R. “The Evolution and Dynamics of Digital Writing.” Grlucas, https://grlucas.net/grl/CompFAQ/Digital_Writing. Accessed 5 October 2023.

Lucas, George R. “Combining Disciplinary Approach to Technical Writing with Digital Writing: Enhancing Communication in the Digital Age. https://grlucas.net/grl/CompFAQ/Digital_Writing/Tech_Writing. Accessed 5 October 2023

Ashley Jones

Ashley Jones

I am an Assistant Professor in Communication and Emerging Media at Georgia Southwestern State University. My research expertise focuses on digital games.
Americus, GA