Remember when you were a kid and you read your first book without pictures? Just plain words on the printed page with the only pictures being the ones you conjured up in your brain. What an achievement!
Remember writing your first term paper in high school? How on earth would you ever make it to five or ten pages of just words? Somehow though, you did it, and what an achievement!
Just curious, are these achievements anymore? Writing has become an increasingly visual medium. Even if you’re (an adult) reading something without pictures or illustrations to help demonstrate the content, you’re still most likely looking at something visually appealing.
The rules for writing have changed. No longer are long, black paragraphs on a white background acceptable. There must be columns and color and lots of white space. If it’s not fun to look at or if it is intimidating in any way, no one in our ADHD society will be able to get to the content. TLDR.
I first learned of the change in rules in graduate school, when I was told that my papers would be judged not only on content but on visual presentation as well. What? I was looking forward to spitting out all those black words on plain white paper (I never said I had a problem with a five or ten page term paper.) I thought graduate school would be the one place I could go where people – professors – had enough of an attention span to read a giant term paper. Not so, apparently. I had to make my papers – and I could not believe for all the world when I heard this word leave the lips of a supposed academic – skim-able.
Making my own writing visual was not difficult, but it reminded of the resistance I put up in one of my last classes as an undergrad. I was doing a study abroad in London and I had to put together a compilation of essays on places I’d visited, complete with pictures. I added just one picture, usually a postcard, to accompany each essay, knowing that my peers were probably relying on multiple pictures to save them from having to write so much.
I was an idiot.
For better or for worse, pictures and presentation really do change the entire reading process. I’m not saying everything needs pictures, and for God’s sake let’s not forget about actual content, but certainly essays on attractions and historical places in London would seem to call out for pictures. If I were travelling today I’d be voluntarily writing essays (blogging) on the places I’d visited and sharing lots of pictures. It’s what I do.
I will say, in defense of my past self, that pictures 10 years ago when I was finishing the essay project were just a harder medium to work with. You could only take so many before changing rolls of film, and film cost money. Then you had to get them developed and that cost money, plus you had to wait. Now you can shoot and shoot until you get the best possible picture and then you can upload or print or share it immediately. It is better that way and I’m glad that technology has shown me the light.
Since I’m not travelling and have no plans to do so in the near future, I thought it might be fun to share one of those essays from my London days. This is not the best essay I wrote, but it is sort of funny and it is titled, rather appropriately for this forum, My New Zoo. You can read it by following the link below. And please forgive those big, bulky paragraphs.