I know this is going to horribly date me, but when I first started teaching technical writing classes word processing programs were just starting to take off. It was not unusual for me to have roughly half of my students’ assignments passed in handwritten on various scraps of paper while the others came in printed (usually landscape because they forgot to set a switch) from a computer.
We all had to work with what we had.
For some it was a tough transition, many of my students, like I, had learned the original art of cutting and pasting where you used scissors and tape instead of edit command. It was a challenge for them to learn the new skill of technical writing at the same time they were also learning the new skill of composing, editing, and designing on a screen.
With patient encouragement, almost all of my students by the middle of the semester were at least able to use the computer for their assignments. But with a little bit of knowledge came the inevitable corruption and I discovered that another problem had reared its ugly head.
I started seeing papers where font usage had gone wild. In the same document headlines were in different colors, bulleted lists screamed out in various font sizes, and my students’ prevailing thought was that the more font types you could use the better.
After all, diversity leads to interest, does it not? And if something is new it must be better.
It took the full second half of the semester as well as the ink from several pens to break this compulsion in most of my students. No, no, no, I scrawled in blood red as I circled yet another title using that days’ most popular newly designed font style. A good message does not need gimmicks.
With maturity and experience in the field, all of my students finally realized that less is more effective when trying to get your point across.
Now that writing and advertising has firmly moved to the net, I see new writers making the same mistakes my students did when they had to make the transition to their new media.
Haven’t you seen the websites with continuous pop-ups interrupting your reading acting like an impatient toddler trying to get your attention first only resulting in fractionating your focus?
Where a disembodied voice calls out to you, you to do something else other than read the text?
Where the graphics compete so strongly with the message that sometimes it all gets lost in the landscape?
The net has gone crazy. Just because it can be done doesn’t mean that it needs to be done.
May I humbly suggest that we, as writers, take a deep breath and a step back? Perhaps it’s time to dig that red pen out of our desk drawers, draw a little blood, and go back to the basics when a strong well written message did not need the glitter and whistles of a newly designed gimmick.