I believe this is a rather common lesson most kids get in late primary or early secondary school: What can contextual information about a piece of writing tell you?
- Who’s the author?
- Where was it published?
- When was it published?
From these basic clues, you can dive further into the text and begin to infer some subjective details:
- What is the motivation for the author to write this text?
- How does the text reflect the time period in which it was written?
I still use these clues when judging online writing, and many blogs are kind enough to display the author and date right below the title. Sometimes you can click on the author’s name for more information about her. And finding the publisher is sometimes as easy as glancing at the domain. Yet, all these clues for both digital and print writing come from the author/publisher.
And that makes comments valuable. Comments are a [relatively] new text feature that I’m still learning how to best use when judging a piece of writing. The public feedback provided by comments often includes new details, corrections, citations, and debate. ((Don’t forget: Each comment has its own author and publication date!))
Comments can quickly turn a text with a triumphant conclusion into a small false start to the beginning of a much bigger conversation. Sometimes, comments can even lead to a wholesale reconsideration of a post.
Hypertext—a form that didn’t exist before the web—is still just getting started and commenting is an important new tool for web publishers and web readers. We’d all do well to apply basic lessons from Language Arts to our daily interactions with the web.