A writer’s formal (as opposed to informal) or “scholarly” tone is a key indicator of traditional print-based scholarship within the academy. Writers who wish to be viewed as serious scholars use the language or specialized terminology of the discipline and heed conventions of diction, punctuation, and spelling (Gibaldi, 2003). One potential byproduct of a medium that encourages fast-paced communication through venues such as “webchats,” instant messaging, synchronous conferencing, and other quick-time publishing programs is a blurred distinction between writing and talking resulting in the possibility of informal, more conversational or disjointed discourse (Yates, 1996). Scholars do identify a quality of “orality” related to the inherent hybrid nature of texts constructed in the online medium for both synchronous and asynchronous online conversations. For example, Lester Faigley (1992) understands such texts to use a “hybrid” form of oral speech and traditional written language; such oral characteristics that one might see in these texts include, as Walter Ong (1982) identifies, the additive and redundant qualities of give-and-take and circumlocution.

How much of this tendency toward informality in such areas as diction, punctuation, and syntax carries over to webtexts? It can be argued that the formal, asynchronous, and reflective process of composing, editing, and publishing a print-based scholarly article precludes or at least lessens the possibility of an informal, inconsistent or non-standard tone within the discourse. However, the opportunity in online texts to add a variety of contextually relevant digressions through links off of the main text creates an environment where a less formal or non-standard tone may be tolerated, particularly if the informal digressions reside on the borders of the main argument. The online medium challenges the assumption that scholarly texts must exude a scholarly tone within every node of the webbed text. Question 4 in Category A of the assessment tool is designed to assess the extent to which the webtext incorporates a scholarly tone:

Question 4: Tone