01719: Writing For Internet Audiences

Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia
I recently encountered an opinion piece written by a former school mate of mine online. It was a pretty good analysis and clearly he had put a lot of thought into his subject matter and it certainly made for interesting reading. But given the tone of the article and the manner in which he wrote it, I knew that he was going to have a field day with the joy that is the internet at large.

True enough, scrolling down to the comments section led me down to that familiar dark place that all comments sections get sucked into provided enough participants. There were those who praised the article and agreed with him wholeheartedly. There were those who rejected his "academic" writing style and felt it was more about the guy trying to prove he was smart. There were those who challenged the prior group and accused them of anti-intellectualism. And you have all the other folks who'd either take sides, add random unrelated side comments or just those wanting to be there for the heck of it.

Admittedly, I've always had issues when writing gets too complicated. The use of big words is sort of fun in school when you're being lazy in trying to reach a page count goal. But in everyday life, it gets really annoying. Of course if you naturally use such words in both written and oral conversation, then I suppose that's fair since you're being consistent. But when you write in a manner that seems "elevated" versus your conventional speech, then it feels like you're just posturing.

This is especially painful when you intend for your writing to reach a wide audience. While I don't expect you to write for the lowest common denominator, I think it's fair to expect a person to aim for the general audience somehow. Sure if it's a scientific paper that will only be read in academic circles, go have fun. But when you're going to appear in a blog or in a news site, don't dig your own grave in that manner. And this is not about dumbing down what you have to say - that's just insulting. But it's not at all difficult to use more conventional words in order to drive ease of reading. Then the readers can focus on what you had to say instead of how you chose to say it.

The article is fairly new so I know the comment storm isn't going to end anytime soon. Too many Filipino internet users (don't get me started on the term "netizen" again) enjoy these little flame wars for one reason or another. I guess because a lot of folks weren't online in the email days when flaming over news groups was a fine art. Or not.