The Great Communicators? It is to LOL!

I have mentioned in a past blog the amount of time I spend writing and answering email on an average day (one hour for four or five email accounts) and what a great tool it is for freeway flyers. Messages from the colleges for whom I teach, including other faculty members and administrators, often convey important information. Messages from some college students, however, require that I translate, punctuate, and meditate over their possible meanings.

A recent email from a student is shown below exactly as I received it. The student is in a freshman composition class I am teaching this summer. Although we are several weeks into the course, I am thinking of restructuring it to include a unit on effective emails. The message says:

hello carol i was just emailing you to see if you recieved my rough draft please email to let me know. im still waiting on my books to come so i will have to coppy the pages out of someone else to keep up with the work. i hope im not to much behind, my so have been really sick so thats why i didnt attend class last week. he is doing well now and i won’t be missing anymore days. if its any work i can make up i will gradly appreciate it if not do you give out any extra credit assognments. i did very well least semester and i dont wont to mess up this semester, so any of your help will be nice. thank you and have a nice day

In my effective email unit, I will remind the students that communication is the main goal and certain aspects of grammar and punctuation aid in reaching that goal. Capitalizing words, using end punctuation, checking for correct spelling and making sure sentences are neither fragments nor run-ons is helpful. I realize that if I would like to receive emails that are easy to read and make sense of, and that communicate well, I will have to be prepared to teach students how it is done.

We have seen several studies that state that today’s teens and young adults write more than ever. Certainly, they are texting more than ever; a study by Pew Internet & American Life Project says the average teen sends from 1,500 to 6,000 texts a month, averaging from 50 to 200 texts per day. According to the study, 60 per cent of teens do not think of electronic communication as writing. Yet, fears of parents and members of institutions of higher learning that texting is ruining their writing is unfounded according to a previous study from 2006.

According to this Cambridge University study, the writing quality has improved. They acknowledge, however, tht students tend to use more abbreviations in regular academic writing, use more non-standard English in written exams, and use more slang and informal usage.  So, they may be writing more, but are they writing better?

Other questions worth asking include these: if this writing evolution is happening naturally, then do we need to accept that it is just part of how communication and language can change? Am I, for example, just being too uptight (I know, I dated myself with that expression) about things that don’t matter? Is the message the most important thing, not the delivery or the medium? I’m not sure, but when I read the student’s email one more time, I think about how I struggled to find the meaning of the message and how the delivery, in this case, hindered the communication process.

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