June 1997

Navigation Key
o [*] - [] *



by Chris Lapham and Kevin Hunt

We drew on cave walls, we hand-scribed beautiful manuscripts (while listening to Gregorian chants I assume ;->), we learned how to print on paper and now, as the next century approaches, we can send our thoughts, ideas, and words quickly and easily to people all over the world.

The Internet and the World Wide Web have greatly expanded the notion of writing as a form of communication, and we are just beginning to get a glimpse of what that really means. This special issue of CMC Magazine is devoted to Writing on the Web and explores just what it means now to express words and ideas in this new electronic medium.

In "[] Writing in Cyberspace," Pixy Ferris, an assistant professor at William Paterson College in New Jersey, looks at what makes writing in print effective--purpose, content, organization, style and audience--and then compares that criteria to electronic writing. Ferris explains why the Web is both an oral and a print medium and looks at the significance of this tension in light of efforts to define the Web as a print or a broadcast medium.

[] Chris Lapham use a highly literate context--reading a book--to explain how writing online is different than writing in print. Her essay, "Why The Book Is Better Than The Movie," is a light-hearted look at what readers bring to the words they read and how writers can design their communication to suit electronic audiences.

The rich potential of Web has not yet been realized, but Michael Joyce, author of "afternoon, a story," one of the most acclaimed hypertext fiction works, comes close. "[] Hypertext Illuminated" peek inside the mind of this gifted writer and technologist, the creator of Storyspace.

What happens when readers and writers are faced with texts that have no physical presence? [] Marcy Bauman, a professor of composition and rhetoric at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, explores how readers and writers of Web texts compensate for the lack of physical and contextual cues for making sense of texts in her essay, "Negotiating a Passage Among Readers and Writers on the Web." She concludes that "reading and writing on the web are not particularly different from reading and writing in papertext environments if you think in terms of the needs of readers and the needs of writers."

What the Web is doing is fostering a new sort of literacy, perhaps what Paul Gilster dubs "digital literacy" in his new book bearing that title. [] John Horberg takes a look at Gilster's ideas about what digital literacy is all about, and contends that perhaps Gilster is a little too utopian and not critical enough in his look at "the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers."

And speaking of literacy, in the "[] Last Link" Kevin Hunt argues that the Web is primarily a visual medium, and thus requires cultivating in students skills in the visual arts, a new "digital literacy," if you will. Unfortunately, currently the curricula in most schools in the United States have a bias against the necessity of visual literacy, a problem that will become all the more profound with the push to wire schools to the Net.

Chris Lapham ( and Kevin Hunt ( are contributing editors to Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine. They edited this special issue on Writing and the Web.

Copyright © 1997 by Chris Lapham and Kevin Hunt. All Rights Reserved.

Contents Archive Sponsors Studies Contact