Digital Essay

Your second writing project is to compose a digital essay—a piece of writing meant to be read on screen rather than on the page.

So the first question is: What new possibilities does writing a digital essay open up? Clearly, one thing you can do as a digital writer is to combine modes of expression, mix your prose with images, hyperlinks, videos, and audio files. You can insert written text into a video or slide show, or write the script for an audio file, or layer writing over images. You can also experiment with structure.  Many web texts seem less linear than print ones, in that they seem to invite readers to choose their own paths through the materials they present rather than follow a single consecutive route through them. Your task as a digital writer, then, will be to  put these new possibilities of expression to imaginative use.

But there is also the question of what it means to compose a digital essay. For the purposes of this assignment, here’s what I’d like to note about the digital essay as form:

  • A digital essay is centered in writing. While I anticipate that you will make strategic use of images, video, and sound files, as well as various elements of graphic design, your work as a digital writer should be rooted in, well . . . writing. Your task here is not to make a video or podcast or mash-up or infographic; it is to write an essay that draws on the resources of the web. I’ll expect your digital essay to include at least 2,000 words of original prose—either written or spoken.
  • A digital essay is a coherent whole. Unlike the open-ended form of blog, to which you can always add a new post or page or link, the elements of a digital essay need to work together as parts of a cohesive structure. The final version of your essay should feel planned and complete.
  • A digital essay is idea-driven. Since Montaigne, the job of the essayist has been to comment and interpret. I want you to ground your digital essay in response to other texts, but not to imagine yourself as simply writing an online version of a standard  academic research paper. For this project, aim less for comprehensiveness than craft, voice,  presence. Your task is to experiment with a new form of critical writing, not to have the last word on a subject.

We’ll talk often in class about examples of this emerging form. Indeed one of our key tasks this semester will be to locate as many good examples as we can of Self Kafka's Woundwriting that does things online you can’t do on the page. (See, for instance, Will Self’s remarkable Kafka’s Wound.)

But one thing a digital essay should probably not be is a Word document. I encourage you to experiment with other formats. You might repurpose a blog platform (WordPress, Tumblr, Wix, Google Sites), or slide program (Prezi, Sliderocket, Vuvox, Projeqt). You might consider crafting a piece for an emerging social platform for writing like Medium. You might experiment with video, audio, animated text, or programs like iBooks Author. Whatever you do, your challenge is to work creatively as a writer in a digital environment.

I’ll ask you to develop your digital essay in three stages: a proposal (due Fri, 4/04), a first full draft (due Tues, 4/29, workshop Fri, 5/02), and a revised, final draft (due Tues, 5/13). You will then present the final, archival version of your digital essay at our last class meeting on Friday, 5/16.

I look forward to working with you on this project. Good luck!

Harris | UD | Spring 2014