Research on writing conventions: U R what U write.

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An Annotation by Jeff Ayer

Nelson and Feinstein focus on “Netspeak,” which they define as “a blend of speech and writing” (1).  Their greatest point, however, is found in trying to battle the idea/theory that writing frequently leads to improved writing overall (especially by using blogs, e-mails, and instant messaging).

Their conclusion is in three parts after completing a four-year study in two Midwestern high schools:


“classroom compositions. . .endure inconsistent applications…online writing…suffers a downright shoddy performance” (19).


“Students who write via e-mail, IM, and/or blogs show worse usage of standard conventions than those…who do not write online…” (19).

And third,

“Students, for the most part, do switch gears when writing in different situations” (19).

The writers make no poignant notions as to how educators should address this, but a few statements make readers fill in the blanks for themselves.  They write,

“The writing process can help conquer [the online] arena with multiple revisions and help from teachers and peer editors, but those have become luxuries most writers cannot afford.  We need to know how to write well the first time and see content, form, and conventions as inseparable” (20).

They continue:

“We cannot stop writing, since written communication has become such a staple in our ever-connected digital world, but we do need to stop writing badly” (20).

And they leave readers (and presumably English teachers with this:

“…when writing in school and on the internet, we must ask ourselves two simple questions:  Will my reader(s) understand what I’m trying to communicate, and is my writing reflecting my best thinking?  Conventions can help us do that” (20).

Thus, the writers leave educators in the English field the task of trying to get students to use these new communicative technologies by writing better, rather than the opposite.

It’s bizarre that young people are “simply want[ing] cell phones with e-mail and/or IM capabilities,” but Nelson and Feinstein suggest that this isn’t altogether terrible; getting student to “understand the importance of how they say what they say” may be the real trick, and key, to improving writing in a fast-changing, fast-paced digitally publishing world.

Nelson, L. and S.G. Feinstein.  Research on writing conventions:  U R what U write.  (Retrieved from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 495-170).

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