If you’re a new writer, you might be curious as to what the idea of a “medium” means when it comes to writing. What is a medium, and what impact does it have on your writing?
In writing, the medium is the way in which your writing is delivered to the audience. A print publication, an online blog, a digital newspaper or a PDF document are all examples of different mediums.
Writers get confused sometimes because there is also a popular writing platform called Medium. (That’s the main topic of this website.) It turns out that the two concepts are more related than you might think–Medium, the website, probably gets its name from the writing concept of a medium.
Let’s explore mediums in writing in more detail.
A Medium is the Format In Which Your Writing Gets Delivered
The medium of your writing refers to the specific way in which your writing will reach your audience.
For example, a piece of writing could be featured in a magazine. Magazines are generally printed medium with two facing pages. They’re usually in color, and they’re often printed at a relatively high quality.
In contrast, your writing could also appear on a blog. That’s an electronic medium that’s often consumed on a mobile phone. You’re dealing with a lot less physical space (phone screens are smaller than magazine pages) than in the magazine medium.
You’re often dealing with production constraints, too. Magazines often come out weekly or monthly, whereas blogs could publish several articles a day. The frequency of publication changes the amount of editing, preparation, and other work that can be done on your writing before it gets published.
- Full color
- Large pages allow for many layout elements
- Physical medium
- Fonts and colors vary by the user’s device
- Smaller page size due to smaller screen sizes
- Electronic medium
That’s just comparing two mediums. But in reality, there are hundreds of mediums for the distribution of writing today.
In short, different mediums differ dramatically from each other in physical and conceptual ways that can be significant.
How Does the Medium Impact Your Writing?
Clearly, the medium for which you’re writing will impact the writing you create, or at least how your audience consumes that writing.
In a book or magazine, the layout of your piece is fixed. You can use things like line spacing, the position of photos, and more to enhance the story you’re telling.
With a medium like a blog, in contrast, you’re often dealing with radically different devices (phones, tablets, desktops, etc.), different browsers, and more.
That makes achieving a fixed layout more challenging. It’s thus harder to use line length, word positioning, etc., expressively. It’s also harder to combine your writing with visual elements in a consistent way.
In certain mediums, typography suffers as well. In a newspaper, you know the exact font that will be used for your story. On a blog, the font might vary based on the user’s browser.
Especially if you’re writing in a genre (like poetry) where these kinds of factors are significant, the medium can make a big difference in how your piece is received.
Medium Determines Your Reader
No matter what the physical aspects of a medium might be, those aspects also control the environment in which users will consume your writing. If you write for a physical magazine, your readers will probably be located in a specific region where the magazine is distributed. They’ll probably read it in a location where they can sit down and physically hold a paper publication.
With electronic mediums, however, that’s not necessarily the case. Your reader could be anywhere in the world. Because they could be reading on a phone or tablet, they could consume your writing on the train while commuting to work, on the beach, or nearly anywhere else.
It also controls who gets to read your writing. Only people with the funds to subscribe to a newspaper or magazine can read your stories if you publish in that medium. Many electronic mediums (although, notably, not Medium the website) allow free access, opening their content to a wider array of readers.
The medium impacts your writing in a few ways:
- Layout options
- Ability to control typography and images
- The environment in which your reader will consume your writing
- The kind of writer that your words will reach
Mediums and Business Models
Different mediums can also have different business models, and this can alter your writing in a variety of ways. Print magazines are costly to produce, so they usually focus on higher-quality, long-form stories.
That means that when you publish in a magazine, you’ll likely have more time to write your piece, the ability to include more words, and more hands-on input from an editor. On the downside, you might not be allowed to experiment as much, since the magazine needs to know your piece will come out well enough to justify the space devoted to it.
In contrast, the medium of a newspaper or blog is all about speed and variety. On a blog, you might get much less time to write your piece, and you may have less control over specifics like headlines and formatting. But you might also have the leeway to experiment more.
In a newspaper, the amount of space available in a given edition is often dictated by how many ads have been sold. Newspaper editors may even cut your piece off at a certain point if there are not enough ads to fund adding another page to the paper.
The physical format of a medium matters for your writing, but so too does the business model of that medium.
Medium vs Genre in Writing
Some writers wonder about the difference between medium and genre.
I find this chart helpful. It breaks down some of the differences. In general, though, genre is about the type of story you’re telling in your writing. Is it an informational news piece, a romance novel, poetry, or something entirely different?
In contrast, the medium of your writing is the way in which the writing will be delivered to your audience. Mediums impact your writing, but they don’t necessarily dictate its topic.
One way to think about it is that nearly any genre can be published in any medium, but not the other way around. You can have a romance story published on a blog, for example, or a news article sent via Whatsapp messages.
Genre, in short, is about the kind of story you’re telling, whereas medium is about the way in which your audience receives that story.
Mediums as Expression
Communications theorist Marshall McLuhan famously said that “the medium is the message.” Although I’d argue that often isn’t true–any message can be sent via different mediums–there are some ways in which the medium ultimately dictates the impact of your writing.
A classic example of McLuhan’s statement is an article about a horrible crime. If you wake up in the morning, check social media, and immediately read such an article on your social feed, the facts of the specific article probably don’t have as much impact as the way you’re receiving them.
You’ll get the message “Social media is awful and depressing,” not necessarily “This specific bad thing happened to someone.” In that case, the medium itself (social media and its focus on negativity) has more impact than the contents of the message being sent.
Medium the Concept and Medium the Platform
That brings up back to the main topic of this website, the Medium platform. Medium is a blogging platform that’s deliberately free of advertising. It focuses on a crisp, blank page with minimal distractions from the reading experience.
On the writing side, Medium focuses on the same things–an extremely easy way for writers to dive in and start writing, whether they’re on their phones or in a browser.
In that sense, Medium the platform is itself a medium–a specific way that writing gets delivered. Its status as a medium may well have inspired the platform’s name.
Embedded in that choice of name is the idea that the medium in which writing gets delivered impacts the way it’s consumed, and, ultimately as McLuhan argues, its message.
Medium the platform seems to be betting on the idea that both writers and readers will favor a medium that delivers a cleaner experience that’s more focused on discovering great writing than on ads, sponsors, and the like.
Of course, it’s important to remember that all mediums come with tradeoffs. Although Medium the platform allows for monetization, that might exclude certain readers from consuming writing on the platform.
In writing, a medium is a way that your writing reaches your audience. Your medium can dictate how your writing gets created and consumed. In some cases, the medium itself can become as significant as your actual words.
Medium the platform takes that concept of a medium and turns it into a specific place built around a particular vision of what writing should be. Medium is a medium!
Whether you write on the Medium platform or somewhere else (or both), it’s always important to consider the impact that a specific medium will have on the writing you create and on the experience your readers will have in consuming it.