Thursday, June 17, 2010

Let Me Explain...No, Let Me Sum Up Heather's Blog

One of the things that I appreciate most about my classmate Heather's blog for this term's "Writing About Literature" assignment is how thorough and well structured she has been. Her last wrap-up blog post, The End As The Beginning, is a good example of this: while on the lengthier side, she divides it up into bite-sized morsels that can be read without scrolling, and with headings that make it clear what she intends to talk about. Quite a good example of sign-posting, I believe. I think that this "sign-posting" mentality was especially helpful on posts that had a lot of analysis of relatively abstract and difficult material, like her post Online Identity: Multiple Forms Singlular. That post had 5 subheadings, each giving a good teaser of what the argument beneath it would include.

So, while Heather tended less towards the informal, personal mode of blogging, and more towards a traditional research paper, her alteration of the form to include sign-posts and break things up into digestible bits made a load of text seem more manageable.

An additional benefit to Heather's use of "signposting" is that it structured each post very neatly so that it fit in with her thesis, and so that she could link each post in with the project as a whole. So while her blog is text-heavy, it is also one of the easiest in our class to navigate and understand the scope of her argument.

To Work On:

Part of the reason that Heather needed so desperately to "sign post," and should be praised for it, is because of the density of her analysis in blog posts. In some cases, this was a bit overwhelming, especially because some posts, especially at the beginning, did not make use of the multi-media possibilities that can help break up text and engage the reader. For instance, a series of 4 posts posted from May 25th to June 1st included no video, image, os visual other than a single thumbnail in the last lengthy post on June 1st. While this might not be necessary or even advised in a traditional paper, the blog format allows a scholar to make use of tools that are exciting and might help readers to connect with material in new, interesting ways. By keeping her early blog text-heavy with little visual stimulation automatically filters out interested viewers or readers who simply have a hard time making it through that much text.

Heather clearly recognized this, though, and starting with her post on June 3rd, titled "Palfrey, Harvard, and Identity Play," Heather began including vibrant, engaging photos. In that same post, Heather referred to the photo, including a personal perspective and explaining its use, which was a welcome personal addition to a complex, difficult subject. And while Heather did not explore any other media use in her blog, by the end, each post was shorter, and more engaging structurally, indicating an obvious trend towards understanding the reader's needs.

Also, while Heather's signposting mitigates other structural gaps, she could have used tags or labels to allow alternate ways to combine and search material in her posts. Her final post, for instance, does not contain any tags, and so would not be found through a search of key words, either by scholars searching outside her blog, or inside of it. By contrast, Ben used labels very effectively in his last blog post, making it possible to group his posts in interesting ways based on specific things a reader might be looking for. This gap in Heather's posting mechanics limits a reading of her material to more traditional modes, and shies away from the unexpected and fortuitous results that can come through the intelligent manipulation of new media search tools.

Let Me Sum Up:

In general, Heather completed a well-researched, well organized, insightful series of posts. It was always interesting to read, and Heather was responsive to comments from her readers. While her form was more traditional, she clearly made concessions to the blog format, which greatly improved the readability over what a traditional paper merely pasted online would have.
Great job!

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