The Reading Matrix
Vol. 4, No. 1, April 2004
Writing on the Internet: Finding a voice online
Marcia Peoples Halio
Harcourt Brace College Publishers, Orlando, USA
Reviewed by Laurie A. Henry
University of Connecticut
In a time when literacy learning is changing to meet the demands that new technologies place on our everyday lives, Marcia Peoples Halio provides us with a compact, easy to use handbook that describes writing in the context of online environments. Writing on the Internet: Finding a Voice Online is written in a format similar to that of a computer user’s manual with step-by-step directions provided for every aspect of writing introduced in this text. Although this text was intended to be used as a college textbook, much of the content provides an introduction to various electronic writing environments that would be beneficial to any adult learner hoping to share his or her voice online. Halio outlines procedures for using electronic genres including email, listservs, usenet news groups, and the World Wide Web to publicly share thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Each chapter presents step-by-step directions, examples and practice exercises framed in basic technological explanations of each of these styles of writing. Additionally, tip boxes inserted throughout the text offer additional support, references, and insight to various aspects of writing online.
Chapter one starts the reader on a journey into online spaces by introducing the most commonly used form of writing on the Internet, email. Halio begins this experience by providing an overview of electronic mail in a simplistic description. The reader is then introduced to basic technical information for getting hardwired to the Internet and setting up a personal email account. The remaining portion of the chapter includes many “try this” activities for composing, sending and replying to email messages, which include examples of messages sent from students enrolled in a college course. Halio doesn’t stop at a basic explanation for participating in email communications; she also presents the importance of voice, purpose and audience when sending email messages. Finally, Halio discusses issues around the idiosyncratic formats of email writing such as the importance of a concise, specific message that presents itself within a single screen length, thus touching on the visual aspects of writing online.
Chapters two and three introduce listservs and Usenet newsgroups respectively. These two chapters focus on finding your voice online, taking a stand on a particular issue and finding evidence to support your position as you learn to use these types of forums for sharing your opinions and ideas. Halio continues the handbook format of including helpful instructions, examples, and activities to ensure the user has a clear understanding of these two forms of participating in Internet communication. Additionally, the author cautions about getting caught up in prejudices, confrontations and negative conversations online. She reminds the reader that it is important to critically evaluate messages received through these forums and to avoid becoming personally offended. Halio closes these chapters by suggesting that the user shop around until he or she finds a listserv or newsgroup that fits with his or her own interests, personality and style. A listing of various listservs and newsgroups is provided at the end of each of these chapters that provides suggestions on an array of topics for the reader to explore.
In chapter four, Halio presents instruction for searching and locating information on the World Wide Web. Search techniques via online catalogs, gophers and browsers are presented as well as several specific websites that provide reference materials including the Library of Congress, which provides a plethora of sources and documents. The resources presented in this chapter give the reader a sampling of some of the superb websites available online at the click of a mouse.
The final chapter presents information on publishing personal web pages on the Internet. The author presents various platforms for obtaining personal web space and ideas to include in a web page. A basic introduction to HTML is provided and the many Internet resources point the reader to places where more advanced knowledge of HTML code can be obtained. This chapter closes with suggestions for developing an academic portfolio online and a brief comparison between traditional print and online writing.
Writing on the Internet is presented in an easy-to-read format with many exploratory exercises to provide the reader with experience in writing in online environments; however the text often points readers to their instructor for additional information. This fact makes it imperative for any instructor using this text to be knowledgeable in the areas presented, both from a writing and technology standpoint. Halio presumes that the instructor is well versed in technology, including issues related to Internet access from both on and off campus locations. With this in mind, it is essential that any instructor opting to use this text reads it carefully and ensures that he or she is knowledgeable in the specific areas that are introduced in the text before using it for instructional purposes.
In the preface, Halio stipulates that the purpose of this text is to support and enhance the abilities of students enrolled in writing courses. The text would also provide students enrolled in teacher preparation programs or related fields of study an introduction to the different forms of writing that their students may engage in on a daily basis either in the classroom or outside the school setting. Again, the biggest hurdle of the text is the need for the instructor to be well versed in the aspects of technology presented in Writing on the Internet.
The information Halio presents shows the need for college courses to keep up with the changing role that writing plays in our daily lives. As technology becomes more fully integrated in our society, the ability to successfully participate in writing in online environments becomes increasingly necessary for individuals seeking success in the twenty-first century. Learning to write for online environments should be a part of basic writing requirements for students enrolled in colleges and/or high schools throughout the world as we move into a more global society.
The focus of my research is on literacy and technology. I am particularly interested in reading comprehension and the Internet, the use of literacy skills while conducting searches, and cognitive processes involved in manipulating online platforms. Additionally, I am exploring the use of writing in online platforms.