Thinking about writing like a computer would

Writing has always been one of my strong points. Whether a research paper or a news story, my writing is (usually) clear and concise. My news writing and copy editing courses have served me well thus far.

Writing code is similar and yet different to the kind of writing I am used to. It’s akin to the five paragraph essay form we learned in junior high. First, there’s the introduction, which sets up the “here’s what I’m going to tell you” part (the opening tag in HTML) of the piece. Then, the next three paragraphs compose the body (the title, heading or text), which is the “now I’m telling you what I wanted to tell you” part of the piece. Finally, the piece is capped off with the conclusion (the closing tags), which state “This is what I just told you.” Put another way, writing HTML is like going back to basics.

Coding and hard news writing aren’t so different. In a news story, everything has its place: the headline, the lead, the nutgraph, etc. HTML works the same way; the basic outline is there, and the different parts just have to be plugged in the right spots.

The same is true of the content, as well. At least for the purposes of the first phase of this assignment, simplicity and clarity reign supreme. Put in what is essential, and leave out anything that will garble what you’re really trying to say. Like in print writing, doing this will save the writer more than a few headaches.

But, at the same time, coding so much different from print writing. When writing print, punctuation and grammar errors go unnoticed, and, though annoying, these little missteps don’t detract from the overall work. This is not so in coding. Omitting a semicolon, or even leaving out a tap of the space bar in the wrong spot could derail the entire operation. Every line, every bracket and every tag matters. It’s all or nothing. Coding seems more concerned with function than form. Print writing can feature intense description and hilarious similes. These touches, though small, can make a big difference in a piece. The crux of coding, on the other hand, ultimately lies in whether the page works.

The writer needs to be much more meticulous when coding because his or her audience is a computer rather than a person. The computer is discerning in reading every line of code. If it sees something that doesn’t make sense, it’s going to throw vomit all over your page in its own special ones-and-zeroes way to let you know you messed up. Organic audiences, I’d like to think, are a little more forgiving.

That’s not to say that one form of writing is better than the other. While I do get flustered over the challenges learning a new language (or at least that’s what it feels like), I’m excited just to experience something new for a change. It can be maddening at times, but it is also refreshing.



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