Writing & technology

I have previously visited the topic of the relationship between technology (specifically, “instant messaging”) and writing skills. Of course, this issue has specific relevance to me because I am an educator who has taught writing skills and grammar for several decades. I try to impress upon my students that their written words reflect them. If they want to put their best feet forward (to coin a cliché), they must attend to rhetorical style. Potential employers or college admissions counselors may form opinions about them before they ever reach the door for an interview. Admittedly, as an employer, I decline to consider applications that contain misspellings and grammatical errors. While such mistakes do not necessarily reflect a candidate’s intellectual ability, they do signify inattention to detail—not a quality highly desired by most employers.

Technology has certainly simplified the composing process. As I write, I can instantly manipulate text, review errors, and save the product. Instead of laboring over drafts, I can save my musings for a later time and revisit them without the effort necessary before the word processing era. Nevertheless, writers should be wary of relying too heavily on the crutch of spelling and grammar checkers, which still do not catch all of the errors.

Many teenagers relentlessly engage in some type of informal electronic communication. However, they do not view these e-communications as “real” writing, which they classify school assignments. Yet the style that they use for e-mails, text messages, social postings, and instant messages affects their formal writing. The Pew Internet & American Life Project, in partnership with the College Board’s National Commission on Writing, recently released their 2007 survey of 700 students. Nearly two-thirds of these students admitted that their informal writing affected their academic writing. “About half said they sometimes omitted proper punctuation and capitalization in schoolwork. A quarter said they had used emoticons like smiley faces. About a third said they had used text shortcuts” in their academic assignments.

The survey indicated that teens admit that good writing is important for success in school and later in life. “Some 56% describe it as essential, and 30% describe it as important.” In addition, while most teens write every day in school, they usually produce about one paragraph. They feel that the additional instruction and in-class writing will help them to improve their writing skills. Rather than holistic scoring, teachers should actually provide instruction in the mechanics of grammar skills and writing techniques that will enable their students to achieve that success.

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