Blogging, Twittering, SMS & Chat improving general writing skills

On: October 7, 2009
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About Maarten Hoogvliet
I am a MA student of the Media and Culture master New Media at the University of Amsterdam and I have a BA degree in Communication and Multimedia Design at the HRO in Rotterdam, formerly a part of the Willem de Kooning Academy of Art. Next to doing my masters I am a graphic designer/illustrator.

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http://www.one3rd.nl/blog    

It is often heard that new media is killing our (especially teenager’s) writing skills. Writing on the Internet take bold forms, which are often assumed to influence the general use of language. Examples are acronyms (used in chat, sms, forums, etc.) as CYAL8R (see you later), IMHO (in my humble opinion, ROFL (rolling on floor laughing) or even ROFLAPMP (rolling on floor laughing and peeing my pants). The Internet is full of bad spelling, horrible grammar mistakes and shaky argument structures. New media degrades the use of language.

“Texting is bleak, bald, sad shorthand which masks dyslexia, poor spelling and mental laziness” [1] (as claimed by English professor John Sutherland at London University College).

However, Stanford writing and rhetoric professor Andrea Lunsford claims the following:

“I think we’re in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization”[2]

New technological possibilities are reviving writing as a daily activity, reforming language and its use. Lunsford conducted extensive research on student writing skills, called The Stanford Study of Writing. From 2001 to 2006, she collected almost 15.000 student writings, varying from essays to journal entries and from emails to chat sessions.

Her findings:

Young people write more than any generation before them.

The Internet powers online socializing on a huge scale, and this is all writing. For instance, keeping your followers up-to-date about your day on twitter, blogging etc. Lunsford discovered that almost 40 percent of writing took place outside of the classroom [2].  People write in their own time, for fun, not only when the teacher or the boss wants it.

Young people almost always write for a particular audience

Online writing almost always is directed to a certain audience. For the students in Lunsford’s research writing is about persuading, organizing and debating (for instance writing a 15.000 word game walk though, with clear directions and structure). In class writings the audience only is the professor, which motivates the students far less. It only gets them a grade. Furthermore, different media demand different writing techniques, for instance a twitter message, which needs to be short but powerful, or an email, which has it’s own style and vocabulary and is very different from a classic letter.

New media pushes writing to new levels. Of course it is important to teach in academic writing. Together with new media, student academic writing improves, by the simple fact that practice makes perfect.

The question is, however, if this research is as applicable to the general population as these newspapers claim. Only a small part of the population has an academic degree (statistics missing here) and students probably are naturally better writers than lower educated people or people without education, academic students get lessons in academic writing and so on.

But then again, language is a culturally embedded phenomena and changes with society, technology and the people using it. It is natural for language and writing to change when the world it describes changes.

  1. Berkmann, Marcus. ‘Txting: The gr8 db8’, New York Post, July 27, 2008, <http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/books/txtng_the_gr_db_4pSUZstfEH2aFkdsqLBEEK>
  2. Thompson, Clive. ‘Clive Thompson on the New Literacy’, Wired Magazine, August 24, 2009, <http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/17-09/st_thompson>
  3. Houtekamer, Carola. ‘Internet is goed voor schrijven’, NRC-Next, September 28, < http://www.nrcnext.nl/blog/2009/09/28/internet-is-goed-voor-schrijven/>
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