For language teaching writers, when it comes to writing content for digital materials, many of the same rules apply. You want to create materials which will present and practise language and also engage and motivate learners. In addition, teachers will look for content which is teachable and easy-to-follow.

Digital tools and platforms

This table contrasts some key aspects and differences between writing for digital and writing content that will appear on the printed page. It would be wrong to view these differences as absolute opposites. Instead, maybe recognise them as tendencies on a scale.

(If you are viewing this on a phone, scroll across the table to read both columns.)

 Writing for print-basedWriting for digital
Page and Screen SizeTraditionally, we write materials knowing that will appear on an A4 sized page so there’s a consistency to what we do.The content needs fit the size of the screen or be adaptable. So if we write materials with a laptop in mind, we also need to consider if the same material can work on a phone.
Editing and revisionsOnce it’s on the published page, it’s too late to edit, correct or update something without publishing a new version.It’s easy to fix a mistake with the materials or to update information with seconds.
Structure and styleWith print-based materials, we consider the flow of the exercises and their relationship from the first exercise through to the final exercise on a page.Often, only one exercise is shown at a time on the screen and the material can be much more granular. 
Style considerationsTheoretically, the printed page allows you to write longer instructions and exercises. Though this is not always advisable! For reading texts and comprehension questions, it’s much easier to write these for a print-based format.Exercise instructions and length are often briefer due to the screen size. It’s harder to read long texts on a phone screen and even harder to answer comprehension questions when you need to find answers in different parts of a text.
NavigationYou need to make use of headings, numbers, instructions, answer keys so the teacher and students can find their way through the sequential material.Digital exercises also need headings and short instructions. But an online exercise tool will force you to do an exercise in a certain way and it can indicate mistakes or give the answer key.
Multimedia integrationAs writing print-based materials is by definition ’text-based’, any additional audio and video content requires external technology and therefore impacts the writing.It’s easy to include and integrate images, video, and interactive elements which the students can also have control over. Adding this kind of content in digital writing is a natural and seamless process.
EngagementThese materials tend to rely on engagement being longer and more thoughtful given the use of longer text.By integrating features like interactive polls and quizzes, there’s greater opportunity for instant engagement which requires a shorter timespan.
Table contrasting writing for print and writing for digital

Is ‘materials writer’ an accurate term?

Based on the above, it brings into question whether the term ‘materials writer’ is adequate anymore when it comes to talking about digital materials. After all, the verb ‘write’ doesn’t fully describe a job in which we need to fully utilise the functionality of an online platform, possibly use some coding, or produce video content. For these reasons and more, it isn’t surprising that people who once would have described themselves as materials writers, now label themselves as ‘content creators’, ‘design thinkers’, ‘digital authors’ and so on. However, given that none of these quite sum up what it is we do, let’s stick with ‘materials writer’ for now.

We’d love to read you thoughts on this topic in the comments below. In particular:

  1. Are there any more categories and differences you would add to the table above?
  2. Do you think the job title ‘materials writer’ is out-of-date? What would you replace it with?

John

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