A Review of Lisa Dush’s Article “When Writing Becomes Content”
The article “When Writing Becomes Content” was written by Lisa Dush, an assistant professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse at DePaul University, for the journal College Composition and Communication, 2015. Lisa Dush attempts to give us guidance on writing as content and how it can be embraced for the modern writer as well as subject to the critical perspective of writing studies. But to know what writing as content looks like, we must know what content is. Dush says that “content is conditional, computable, networked, and commodified” (174). The definition of content is shaped through these four characteristics, the metaphor of writing is considered, and we are given a list of the opposing characteristics of writing and content to understand how we might merge the two.
Dush goes on to connect writing studies with content professions as she talks about content marketing and content strategy. She also examines ways to approach teaching content writing in university courses. Lastly, she reminds us of the core values in writing studies but warns against disregarding writing as content. Dush raises and addresses a lot of excellent points about writing as content, including offering solutions for teaching in university-level courses, however, her recommendations are very limiting on which students might benefit from this material.
One very effective point of this article is the breakdown of what it means to be content. Dush removes a layer of uncertainties the writer might have about this medium by explaining what content is and how its components are connected. Dush explains that “Content has a core conditional quality, fluidity in terms of what shape it may take and where it may travel, and indeterminacy in terms of who may use it, to what ends, and how various uses may come to be valued” (176). This may be one of the most important things to remember when creating content – it can take on whatever shape we need it to and be used in ways only limited to our imagination. Content is also computable in the ways that algorithms can rank it on the web, often using keywords. It is networked and finally commodified, often broken down into smaller chunks to serve a specific purpose. It is easy to understand, then, how all these components work together to determine whether your content is effective to the digital audience. We all consume digital content, so we have that basis for being able to make the connections.
Dush offers a chart in her essay giving us examples of the ways the traditional writer differs from the content writer. While this list is binary, we can start to see how some of these characteristics could be merged. We also can understand the points of difficulty in trying to reconcile the two. But we are given a warning worth heeding when Dush says that “The real danger is in ignoring content: if content has indeed changed the rhetorical game, composers who ignore it risk failing in their rhetorical attempts, and a field that ignores it risks marginalization and missed opportunities for growth” (183). There are still situations where tradition is preferred and welcomed, but to continue to be successful and to stay relevant, embracing content is key. One does not need to become a content expert but being able to adapt to and navigate the digital world will ensure survival.
Finally, Dush talks about an approach to teaching writing as content in writing studies courses in universities. She offers sensible solutions to addressing the educational concern of teaching students this valuable skill, but her suggestions seem to be limited to writing students. These same skills would be valuable to many disciplines, but those students might not have access to the information, especially those on a graduate-level who are only taking highly specialized courses. She is on the right track but expanding the availability of this educational material would be beneficial to all.
Writing is an art form, and the writer an artist. Students of writing studies are taught to be critical thinkers. Is there a way to reconcile the writer with content, merging analytical skills and artistic expression with strategic writing? While some writers today can be wary of the idea of writing as content, writing is evolving and so must the writers along with it. Understanding how content can be used for meaningful discourse only opens greater possibilities for the writer, and it is within their power to help shape the medium of content.
Dush, Lisa. “When Writing Becomes Content.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 67, no. 2, 2015, pp. 173–196. National Council of Teachers of English, http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CCC/0672-dec2015/CCC0672When.pdf