Form ever follows function

In the March 1896 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine the architect Louis Sullivan published “The Tall Office Building Artistically Reconsidered” in which he famously formulates his credo for the modern architect:

Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing nun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever- brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling. It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law

This heady and flighty prose statement offers a reminder that when we make things—and our work as writers is making things with words—we are always to some degree considering the relation between form and function

Last week I asked you to think through forms of language (in particular, the essay) and the functional opportunities and constraints of the digital space in which we are working (the web log or “blog”). This thinking through will happen as you are working on your writing, for sure; but we will also be studying and talking about how others have used this digital space effectively (or not). My initial instructions on the form of the blog post were relatively simple: each entry will have a title, be dated, and provide you with an opportunity to share with your reader what you have learned (or are learning) about style. What have you discovered that all of us would agree is worth knowing about language/style? What have you realized that causes you to say to yourself, “how did I not know that?” How might you take the reader from the simple to the complex, the commonplace to the exceptional?

A couple of weeks ago we talked through your observations about our blogs (see the Classwork page) to a list of advice for a wood-be blogger in this course. (Thank you, Shannon, for keeping notes!). As we look ahead to your individual conferences with me, I recommend that you consider the following as you curate your blog and begin thinking about your next weekly blog post or two.

Be interesting: your idea(s) matter more than anything Make sure there is a point to the post, a reason that an informed reader would want to read your post. Remember that conversational and so-called “informal” writing can also be smart writing. Draw on the words of other authors, quote or link to sources, practice embedding, bridging

Be thoughtful One of the words we used (but that needs more thought) is a conversational tone that, as I found myself insisting, is not necessarily informal. Again, one can write informed informal prose that is smart, engaging, even exiting to read. My friend and collaborator Sean Meehan, a professor at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, was among those who helped me to see the usefulness of describing blogging as a conversation on his course blog Comp|Post

Make Connections Experiment with embedding what you are saying in your reading, that is, in the writing of others; learn how to make hyperlinks (in place of the less elegant URL); organize blocks of text using paragraphs but also using bullet lists (we can talk about this and punctuation for visual simplicity / ease of reading; use italics (or parenthetical comments) and bold face type, when appropriate

Cultivate a Point of View Who are you? Where are you? What are you doing/ What are you thinking or feeling? What makes you interesting, worth talking with, or listening to? (More than a couple of you commented on the point of view Amelie has cultivated on her blog: The French Post: A French Girl Writing in English.)

Refine Tone (voice, persona) Conversational, strong, sharp, friendly are the terms you have been using: what do these terms mean? Is there humor? Why not cut the stuffy, “formal” tone. Loosen up the composition. But watch out for too informal as it can turn around and nip you quick

Be (stay) focused Say what you have to say. Though most strong blog posts could be developed more fully. In addition to development, then, think reduction. Consider the interesting discussions we had in our workshop on conciseness and apply some of the strategies we used to stay on point

Be professional You are publishing your writing. For this reason alone, your prose should be revised, revised, revised. Then (and only then) do you edit. It takes a lot of work to get things exactly right. I’m watching very closely, too

Give some thought to Titles Clever, catchy, eye drawing, informative, suggestive, substantive. Titles most often are the last thing you revise before you post. Most good titles are merely suggestions of better titles

Begin with Beginnings First sentences matter. And you have a lot of choices. (There are some excellent examples already up on the blogs). Try personal anecdotes, a “catchy sentence,” a quotation, a reference to another college class, an intellectual context, or a field of study

Choose a functional Theme Think about visually appealing themes and ease of navigation, adding media (images, screen shots) 

Consider Layout you have options: spacing, separating quotes, use of italics and boldface, use of design options on your blog (theme, text options, hyperlinks for embedding, widgets for sidebars or footers)