WRIT 501 header

The Affordances of Web vs. Print

William Powers argues in his essay "Hamlet's Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal" that "the digital medium serves up content differently from paper, and we go to it for different kinds of reading experiences--'search and destroy' versus 'settle down.'....[T]he content that works best of the Web, for readers of all ages, has migrated there, while the 'long-form, in-depth' stuff clings tenaciously to paper (even when it's on the Web, people are less likely to read it there)" (55). What he doesn't emphasize, however, is that many people who post material in electronic form on the web are actually simply posting print documents as if the Web were some kind of giant bulletin board to which sheaves of print text can be electronically pinned. The result of such "pin and post" strategies, far too often, is a web document that is unreadable--or goes unread. (For some howlingly good examples of this, see my CRTW 201 syllabus, which embarrasses me every time I look at it, or "The Correct Use of Borrowed Information," which desperately needs attention.)


  1. I want you to work with the basic design principles discussed in Lynch and Hortonís Web Style Guide.
  2. I want you to think about and analyze the comparative affordances offered by print and electronic publication.
  3. I want you to start writing metanarratives so that you will have practice for your portfolio.


  1. Using what you learned from Powers' cogent analysis of the relationship between the purposes of reading and the technology we prefer for reading it, find a page of information relevant to students of literature or rhetoric on the web that is obviously a "print" document that has been published to the web. I would strongly prefer that this NOT be an Adobe .pdf file. Certainly, the page you choose should be one that is more suited to the affordances of paper than to digital publication in its current form. (If you want to start looking at some of the different affordances of print and pixel, compare pages in The Victorian Web with those in The Walt Whitman Archive.)

  2. On a site you link to your personal Birdnest homepage, redesign the original content of the web page you've chosen so that it is suited to web delivery. This may mean changing the information architecture, structure, and navigation of the original document so that it is better tailored to the kinds of affordances the web offers. Use your reading in Lynch and Horton to create a document that suits the affordances of electronic publication. I am aware that most of you are not graphic designers or tremendously skilled in page design at this point. That's okay. As long as the page is fairly close to how you want it to look, it doesn't have to be "professional quality" design. (In the so-called "real world," you as content provider would be working with a digital information designer to deliver your content.)

  3. Once you have redesigned the document, create and present (in whatever form you feel is most appropriate) an analysis of the changes you have made, justifying your choices and connecting those to the rhetorical principles that have guided your redesign. You may want to talk about a number of the canons of rhetoric--not only memory and delivery but also invention and style, and discuss your assumptions about your audience as you create this analysis. If your analysis is not a traditional, print-based analysis, then make sure you find a way to document the sources you're working with that is clear, accurate, and effective.


Post a link to your redesigned site with analysis from your central class webpage on our class Ning site
before noon on October 6 so that people have a chance to at least "surf" your page before class time. (Earlier announcements will of course be gratefully welcomed!)