Kurup, 47, discovered that he was having trouble reading long sentences with multiple, winding clauses full of background information. Online sentences tend to be shorter, and the ones containing complicated information tend to link to helpful background material.
I just this week remarked (on Facebook and on Twitter) that writing in an academic context is showing me just how well honed my blogging habits are, because they’re pretty much opposites.
I once explained to a long-time journalist who was new to editing an online news publication that writing for the web is its own style. Preserving formatting and links when quoting or cross-posting other online sources is critical to proper attribution, unless there is permission given to alter the text, via licensing or editorial agreement. It’s possible, especially where links are concerned, that the original author’s style choice was deliberate.
It’s interesting to think about the different ways in which this web-oriented style of writing plays out. Some of it is visual elements like bold and italics (sorry, strength and emphasis), links, and headings. Some of it is the informational elements, like short paragraphs, bulleted lists, and headings. What’s currently considered best practice for anything that falls under the guise of “content” completely facilitates this scanning practice. Search engines in fact reward you for breaking up your writing with headings.
I’ve been completely immersed in my master’s thesis draft for the last three days. I would love to be able to just pull a blockquote from an article. Or to have a paragraph with just a couple sentences. Or to link to a related source instead of spending a paragraph explaining what it says. But, thinking about the couple of articles I just read on business speak and how not to use it, I can see how it’s also easy to get caught up in academic speak.
Now I understand why my academic friend’s blog posts on her consulting website look the way they do. The paragraphs are long and there are many of them. They are dense with valuable information. You have to really pay attention to follow them. They make for great chapters and really not so great blog posts. I’ve mentioned headings, but short of an editorial workflow intervention, I don’t think that’s going to happen, because that’s a learned style of writing. But aside from the SEO advantages, now I’m thinking that it may be better to leave well enough alone. But I don’t want a principled argument on neuropathway development to prevent her content from being accessible, either.
I totally stopped in the middle of reading this article to start this blog post.
Wolf, one of the world’s foremost experts on the study of reading, was startled last year to discover her brain was apparently adapting, too. After a day of scrolling through the Web and hundreds of e-mails, she sat down one evening to read Hermann Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game.”
“I’m not kidding: I couldn’t do it,” she said. “It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”
I have absolutely noticed that I tend to read and scroll at the same time. It feels terrible in my brain. I know what my brain feels like when it’s overwhelmed and tired, and that’s the same feeling as when I’m trying to read and scroll simultaneously. So I have at least tried to stop doing that, and make as much use of Evernote’s Clearly plugin for my browser as possible, so I get an Instapaper-ish screen to read from without all the visual noise. On the desktop anyway. That’s much harder to do on mobile, especially while scrolling through tweets.
I have made it a goal, last year and now this year, to read more books. I enjoy it. It feels good. This is reminding me just how important that is.
I completely overthought how I constructed these paragraphs.