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13.1 Composing in Web-Based Environments

Learning Objectives

  1. Recognize situations where you might compose for the web.
  2. Differentiate between casual and formal online writings.
  3. Understand proper and improper online writing based on each individual situation.

Both as a student and in other aspects of your life, you are likely to write information and publish it on the Internet. Some examples of possible Internet writing that many people take part in are chat rooms, social networking sites like Facebook, voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) platforms like Skype, e-mail, mobile cellular texts, online distance-learning coursework (such as assignments, group projects, and discussion forums), blogs and responses to blogs, instant messages, wikis, nonacademic discussion forums, web-based memorial sites, responses to online newspaper articles, and job applications. Given that few of these media or genres existed a generation ago, it’s patently absurd to argue that “people don’t write (or read) anymore,” and it’s difficult to argue that writing teachers shouldn’t try to account for what’s at stake when you write on and for the web.

Like every other kind of written communication, how you write on the web depends on the purpose of the specific situation. In reality, you’ve probably developed a pretty good system for running your web-based communication through an almost unconscious version of the statement of purpose questions from Chapter 5 "Planning". If you have an unlimited text plan and maintain at least one profile on a social networking site, you concern yourself with matters of voice, message, audience, tone, attitude, and reception hundreds of times a day. At the very least, students and teachers ought to be trying to learn together how to apply or translate the sophisticated rhetorical strategies you use in your casual communication to your more serious academic and professional endeavors.

Because you are often multitasking while texting or using the web and because of the speed and convenience of electronic communication, this realm is prone to carelessness. In casual situations, rules are minimal and you can use very casual language that includes abbreviations, slang, and shortcuts. Your use of a casual tone depends solely on whether your audience will understand what you are saying. Writing for school or work does not fall into the casual category. In these situations, you cannot use abbreviations, slang, and shortcuts. In fact, you need to use proper punctuation, grammar, and capitalization. You should also use traditional writing rules and a more formal tone when responding to diverse populations and serious situations.

Whether writing in a casual or formal situation, always be aware of the population that has access to your content. Also keep in mind that even if you are writing on a semiprivate venue like a class-wide course management system or on an invitation-only wiki, your digital text can easily be copied by someone with access and forwarded to someone without access. So don’t write anything that could embarrass or cause problems for you or others.

Due to the nonprivate nature of the Internet, you should not provide full contact information. Depending on the situation, you might choose to use your full name (such as in an online class or on a memorial condolence site) or you might choose to use a pseudonym (such as in a response to a blog or to an online newspaper article). Only give your phone number and address when you are on very secure sites. Never post your social security number online. If you have a legitimate request for your social security number, call and give it over the telephone.

Key Takeaways

  • In the online environment, casual situations call for different writing techniques than do formal situations.
  • Do not post information on the Internet you do not want to be public.
  • In the online environment, take care to protect your personal information. Share your full name only in formal situations. Provide your phone number and address only on secure sites. And do not post your social security number online at all.


  1. Examine your profile on a social networking site like Facebook. (Chances are, you have one.) Run your page, posts, and profile through the statement of purpose questions in Chapter 5 "Planning" on message, audience, voice, attitude, reception, and tone. Now do the same with sites of five close friends.
  2. Scroll through the text messages you’ve sent and received in the last week. What do you notice about how you manage your tone, attitude, and reception differently depending on the message you are trying to convey, the audience you are trying to reach, and the voice you are trying to project?
  3. Identify each of the following as a forum that could be considered casual or formal and thus worthy of a casual or formal tone:

    1. chat room
    2. social networking site like Facebook
    3. e-mail message
    4. instant message
    5. wiki
    6. memorial condolence site
    7. an employment opportunity site
  4. Rewrite the following ideas in your words in two different ways: one that would work for a casual online post and one that would work for a formal online post.

    1. An explanation of your plans for later this afternoon
    2. A description of your college plans
    3. An overview of a topic that interests you