Monday, January 26, 2009

The Persistence of Archaic Conventions on the Web

I work as a volunteer editor at a journal based at my university. This position has reminded me just how much a piece of writing can improve when it goes through multiple rounds of editing by different people. And it has reminded me of how much I intensely dislike copy-editing. It just doesn't engage me, but that isn't the point of this post.

The journal is entirely online, with each article available in both plain HTML and in PDF. The publishing platform we use is the Open Journal System. Where things get interesting is the transition (or rather, the painful lack thereof) between pieces of writing created for print and those created for the Web. In most cases, submissions to the journal started their life as assignments for classes. There's certainly nothing wrong with that. I presume that all authors created their articles on computers and then, since academia is backwards, printed a copy to be submitted to their instructor. When the submissions come to us, we take print conventions and apply it to the Web.

I have learned a few things about the differences one should keep in mind when writing for the Web. One important rule should be to actually use hyperlinks, as you can see in the previous paragraph. In this case, you don't have to wonder what the Open Journal System is when I refer to it or waste time searching for it or asking around, you simply click the link and you find out what it is all about. Thus, I am driven a bit mad by the use of traditional footnotes and endnotes in the digital environment. Those particular modes of citation have no place in the digital environment.

I am reminded of very early printed books (c.1450-1500) where printers and others actively sought to re-create the conventions of manuscript books in print since they presumed that this is what people wanted. However by following this, they failed to take advantage of the technology's new advantages and fail to acknowledge the ways in which print was actually different from manuscript.

1 comment:

KMK said...

That class I teach is currently discussing standard print conventions that have transitioned to the web. You mentioned the use of hyperlinks and not footnotes or end notes do you have any other examples of good (and bad) conventions that have been adopted for better or worse online?