Article Review — “When Writing Becomes Content” by Lisa Dush

Lisa Dush’s article, “When Writing Becomes Content” explains the various aspects of content and how it applies to the recent professions of writing in the developing society of technology. Systematically over the course of several years, the traditional form of writing has evolved into content creation; Dush argues that the overlap between these two practices cannot be ignored due to the rapid growth of digital assets but assesses the relative importance of standardized writing as certain values should not be substituted to fit the content criteria. In this article, she provides insight on the characteristics of content, the examples of content and writing professions based on those characteristics, and the overall significance it holds to the modifying academic curriculum.

Dush begins her article by identifying content as four characteristics, “conditional, computable, networked, and commodified” (Dush 174). This is an excellent vantage point that she provides for the reader because the term “content” can be quite ambiguous. In recent years, content can be identified not only as writing but anything involving the use of digital media such as image, graphic design, marketing, etc. This is due to the popularity of social media, specifically mentioning Instagram as a swift example, which allows all of those aspects to be used interchangeably. Therefore, instead of leaving the definition to be rhetorical, she gives specific examples of how each characteristic operates within a writing context.

For example, she states, “The conditional and computable status of content is inseparable from another of its core features” (Dush 177). Those definitions are described to have fluidity where it can be changed and read by both humans and machines. Her specific example to explain those two characteristics is through the platform, WordPress, and how a blog post can be read and changed by the human, and the “search engines will rank it according to its structure and its SEO features” which is how it’s read and changed by the machine. (Dush 177).

A reader born in the latest generation could analyze that as a positive outcome due to the heavy reliance of technology in everyday activity; however, she argues that “when writing is content, then, we must imagine machine audiences, programmed to algorithmically manipulate any composed text. No matter how well a post is crafted as writing, it is unlikely to meet its rhetorical aims if it is not also prepared as computable content” (Dush 176-177). This is another excellent point she makes by stating the balance between human talent and machine analytics are unproportioned. It is as though the importance of writing is shadowed by the algorithm of popularity on a platform. This leads into her discussion of content professions as the experience needed for writers does not only involve writing any longer but involves the skills needed to maintain a digital appearance to continuously engage the targeted audience.

Progressing further into her article, the reader comes across her statement on page 184 that “the content professions do the work of strategizing, obtaining, organizing, storing, delivering, and analyzing the performance of digital assets and the texts composed from these assets for particular organizations”. This directly reflects her mentions on the multiple abilities a person needs to hold a position within the content writing field. She explains that traditional writing materials include paper, pen, and a writer. Yet, now writing has become digital writing which includes “the ability of the composer to design a text with authorial intention and publish it in venues that maintain its authored coherence” (Dush 181). This example allows a physical perspective to help the reader understand her analogy on the metaphorical phrase “writing becoming content”. Physically, there has been a shift in how writing is performed which she argues is a value that should not be substituted completely; however, she is aware that technology has imprinted itself on society and encourages composers to not ignore it because “composers who ignore it risk failing in their rhetorical attempts, and a field that ignores it risks marginalization and missed opportunities for growth” (Dush 183). Although it is obvious she prefers the native form of writing, it is honorable she recognizes the impact technology has on writing professions; it stimulates her discussion on how this transformation could also be used in the academic area to help future employers already have experience in this digital content from their courses.

Dush, lastly, provides personal input on her interaction with courses in content writing. She states, “my department has reimagined our Writing for the Web course from its prior focus on designing and editing a website—a “writing” approach, with little attention to conditional, computable, networked, or commodified content—to a new focus on the substance and structure-related concerns of content” (Dush 188). This allows her article to come into a full circle as she provides examples of her students using WordPress as a platform to practice in this academic course. As some readers may see this as hypocritical, yet it should be perceived as an acceptance from Dush that traditional writing is no longer the only type of writing that exists within our careers. She further supports this claim by suggesting that “we might also consider creating courses that share language with the content professions, both to better signal to employers that our students are prepared to do content work, and to offer students opportunities to engage directly with content as a concept and set of practices” (Dush 189). Realistically, these two practices have already overlapped, yet her mentions help realize the gain of these type of courses into the writing curriculum would be ideal for any aspiring writer.

Overall, Dush’s argument in “When Writing Becomes Content” is not meant to persuade the audience that a writer should only continue to write traditionally, even though that may be her preferred style, but does not forget its valuable form of expression as society evolves into the new source of writing through content. As it becomes more digital, instead of neglecting its “dwelling” personal relationship between just reader and writer, acknowledge the third party of machinery and apply that intimate connection among all components.

Article Referenced:

Dush, Lisa. “When Writing Becomes Content.” NCTE, 2015, www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CCC/0672-dec2015/CCC0672When.pdf.

 

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