Pew Internet Project on Writing Electronically (Fall 2008 Trust Magazine briefing)

Source Organization: Pew Research Center

Author: Anahi Baca

10/01/2008 - Some who have watched teens as they energetically type messages into digital devices have feared for the future of the full sentence. Is the casual, acronym-laden language style used in e-mailing, texting and instant messaging ruining adolescents’ ability to write?

While no one knows the answer to that question for sure, a joint survey of the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the National Commission on Writing may shed some light on the raging national debate about how technological communication is affecting today’s youth.

The study, which polled youngsters ages 12–17 and their parents, revealed an interesting paradox: While an overwhelming majority of youngsters at least occasionally communicate electronically, they don’t consider these exchanges real writing.

Doomsayers may be relieved to learn that youth distinguish between casual and formal writing, but nearly two-thirds of teens acknowledge that they incorporate—often accidentally—informal expressions into their schoolwork.

The sporadic appearance of emoticons, non-standard grammar and text shortcuts like “LOL” (“laughing out loud”) in their essays, however, may not spell the end of the art of writing. Teens write often for school, and almost all of them claim to occasionally write for pleasure. And they do appreciate standards, agreeing with their parents that competent writing is a key element of success in life.

“Those on both sides of the issue will see supporting data here,” says Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at the Pew project who co-authored Writing, Technology and Teens, a report on the survey’s findings. “There is clearly a big gap in the minds of teenagers between the ‘real’ writing they do for school and the texts they compose for their friends. Yet it is also clear that writing holds a central place in the lives of teens and in their vision about the skills they need for the future.”

The report is available at the project’s Web site, The project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center. :)

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