Read our first hand interview with J.D. Applen; author of Writing for the Web.
This interview delves into a discussion of composition, coding, and construction of Web sites and asks J.D. Applen about some of the content from his new book.
J.D. Applen, in your book you talk about ”beautiful” and “competently constructed” websites which invite audiences to interact with material; what is the most beautiful Web site you have encountered recently?
The most beautiful Web site is one that a student builds from scratch—one that presents her writing, research, and technical skills and thus captures her industry, imagination, and personality. Many students use a social media site to present themselves online, but these are cookie cutter venues where people define themselves largely through their connections to other people or interests such as bands, television shows, and other links on the same social media site. I think they should take more control of their online presence. In one project detailed in the book, I ask each student to code a Web site that is based on 1) a brief autobiography she writes with complementary graphics, 2) an image map she puts in place to describe something unique about her life and creativity, 3) a set of her own writing samples, 4) a resume, and 5) a set of links to professional Web sites that demonstrate her career path, aspirations, and good character. What is key here is that everything is “composed, coded, and constructed” by the student who comes to learn and understand the technology involved.
What inspired you to write about book on Writing for the Web?
I have been teaching a course entitled “Writing and Hypertext” for some years, but to cover what needed to be covered, I asked the students to buy several texts that included a book on HTML/CSS coding, and for awhile, one on writing. I also provided some articles for the students to read on media theory. There was not one complete text that covered all of these elements in a humanities-based course on Web site construction and writing, and even the best sources did not quite meet our needs.
For example, the books on HTML/CSS coding never showed how all of the jazzy coding techniques that were described in them could be put together to allow the students to produce two projects that I think they should have in their personal portfolios: a personal Web site and an informational Web site. In our Technical Communication track in the Department of English at UCF, we like our students to be able to go on the market with projects so they can show prospective employers just what they have done. The same holds true for books on how to write for the Web; while they explain some general theories on writing styles and how to link texts, they do not demonstrate how to put them all together into one package, a complete project.
The subtitle of your book, Composing, Coding, and Constructing Web Sites, illustrates how the book covers theory, technology and practice; how did you decide to present this mixture of topics for the reader?
To be digitally literate means that you can produce content and present it in an online environment with simple tools and technologies; this is the composing, coding, and constructing that we use for the subtitle. Students in the digital humanities can learn how HTML and CSS coding can help them do this. It is especially important that they know how CSS is used for basic layout architectures, not just simple styling. This will allow them to work with other professionals in the field on large-scale Web sites. To just know how to read and write and not code, or to just know how to code but not produce content is not enough; both of these skills are required to be digitally literate.
What is your favourite example in the book?
In terms of content, the second major project in the book, the informational Web site, is based on Tim Berners-Lee. Everyone should know about his contribution; if anyone invented the Internet, it was Tim Berners-Lee, and he did so with the idea that it should be free and not controlled by governments and corporations. In terms of technology, this project is built around a CSS layout architecture that allows students the option of using breadcrumbs or drop down menus, and the rhetorical theory in this book supports this technology and allows students to best understand how complicated architectures work.
Can you sum up the book in a single sentence?
This challenges students to assume the role of a competent media theorist, technician, rhetorician, and Web site architect.
Tell us an unusual fact about yourself and your book; what do you hope resonates with the reader?
While not necessarily “unusual,” I strongly believe that a well-educated citizenry is an essential component of a free society. Working with students on their research and writing skills so they can put their ideas online allows their voices to be heard, and this supports such a society. There are now new programs at universities that call for “digital literacy” or “digital humanities” skills, and this text also supports these disciplines.
Writing for the Web unites theory, technology, and practice to explore writing and hypertext for website creation. It integrates such key topics as XHTML/CSS coding, writing (prose) for the Web, the rhetorical needs of the audience, theories of hypertext, usability and architecture, and the basics…
Paperback – 2013-06-26