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A Research Report Created For Screen

3 min read

We've been talking togehter about mediating writing, about shifting from complex (and to me, sometimes convoluted) referencing styles to instead using hyperlinks, to the importance of composing for screen where many people will now read textregardless of how it's created as we use digital readers or read PDFs on screen.

But I haven't seen many examples of scholarly work created for screen in its original form.

So I was surprised this morning to click through in a news article to a new research report on school desegregration, expecting to see an uploaded PDF (and while PDFs have certainly gotten more graphically attractive recently, they're still things uploaded to the web, not created for the web).

Instead, this report appears to have been composed to be read on the screen directly. Only at the very end do we find the link to download the report to a "stand alone" version like a PDF that could be downloaded to read or use elsewhere.

Features I'm seeing on the first quick read through:

  • There's a "download image" button on each graph or chart -- a dream for teachers or people blogging about this work.
  • There are hyperlinks to many of the supporting ideas, while there is also a lengthy list of footnotes with more formal citations.
  • Headings are graphically strong for navigating through the document -- color and font size seems a big improvement over the three levels of headings in APA, for example.
  • There are sidebars with links to more background information.
  • There are graphically distinct "pull outs" of key quotes and recommendations that stand out from the text.
  • There are links to share the report directly on other social media.

I still wonder about the decisions to create one long scrollling document rather than a series of sections that are linked from a home page.   Scrolling that far into a site (the PDF is 41 pages long) can mean that I lose my  bearings.

I'm wondering also about the decision to include few other images beyond the graphs.   I'm noticing also that unlike digital books on my Kindle app, clicking on the footnote in the text doesn't take me directly to the reference -- a feature I've really loved as I read heavily referenced books.

We can annotate websites now in other sites like Diigo and Evernote, and I've gotten used to using those tools that let me pretty easily go back to find things I want to reference in my own writing.

So what do you think?  What's lost and what's gained in creating scholarly pieces directly for the screen like this?

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