Even More Research: Technology Is Making Kids Better Writers, Not Worse

from the and-again-and-again-and-again dept

Every few months or so, we read about some freaked out reporter/columnist/pundit/politician complaining about how the internet and texting are destroying kids' ability to write. Yet, pretty much every study on the subject has found the opposite to be true. Study after study after study after study after study have all found that kids today are better writers than in the past.

Clive Thompson writes about even more research on the subject, talking to a professor who suggests that, rather than "the death of writing" this is a renaissance:
"I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization."
That's because people are constantly writing. Almost all of this communication actually involves writing. In the past, outside of school -- or certain job functions, many people barely wrote at all. And, yes, kids use txt spk at times, but every generation changes and morphs the language. But, more importantly, kids are smart enough to know what's appropriate when in most cases:
Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
But there's also an interesting philosophical shift that he highlights. Since the type of writing and the audience is different than in the past, many younger people today approach writing in a different manner, and even have rethought what they consider to be good writing:
The fact that students today almost always write for an audience (something virtually no one in my generation did) gives them a different sense of what constitutes good writing. In interviews, they defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading and organizing and debating, even if it's over something as quotidian as what movie to go see. The Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing because it had no audience but the professor: It didn't serve any purpose other than to get them a grade.
This is really fascinating when you think about it. Historically, many people haven't been that concerned about their writing, because it didn't matter. But, the more it matters, the more seriously they take it. This certainly doesn't mean that everyone has become a good writer -- far from it (just view any open comment forum). But, when people really care about what they're saying, they tend to get better at it, and the internet gives more people more reasons to care. As for all the bad writing out there? It's not a sign of the destruction of written English. Those people probably wouldn't be writing much at all without the internet. So it's actually a step up, relatively, from what they would have been doing in an alternate internetless universe.


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  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2009 @ 6:11pm

    "Even More Research: Technology Is Making Kids Better Writers, Not Worse"

    Oh, I know I'm am much better able to write and debate and explain myself and express myself more clearly as a result of engaging in conversations over the Internet than I was able to several years ago. Sure, much of that could simply be that I learn as I get older but much of it is also the Internet. Then again, the Internet does take away from me reading textbooks, electronics books, programming books, and other books that I used to read a lot more before blogs were around. I also don't really read the newspaper much anymore as a result of the Internet mostly because newspapers don't cover topics that I'm interested in or at least they don't fairly present all sides of an issue (something the Internet does a much better job of).

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2009 @ 6:14pm

    correction/and other books that I used to read a lot more before blogs were around./and other books that I used to read a lot more before I started reading blogs (since blogs were really around for quite a while technically, but they weren't really as popular until more recently).

     

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  3.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Sep 4th, 2009 @ 6:51pm

    writing ... just for a laugh ....

    You asked who am I ..... That is a question I
    have been asking for a very long time ..... I
    have found the answer. I am, get this, The god
    of Brussels Sprouts. Yes a true GOD. The reason I
    haven't written in so long is I have been in
    training for this position for the past five
    months. It is a very time consuming process
    (training to be a GOD) even if it is a minor
    deity, like the god of brussel sprouts. For this
    position I had to take courses in agriculture,
    farming and dancing (I'll tell you about the
    dancing part later).

    I would have much prefered the position of the
    god of War, a random fertility god or the god of
    love. The problem is that to be the god of war
    you need a degree in Electrical engineering (you
    know throwing those lightning bolts and all). The
    god of fertility had its good points (the good
    points well (BLUSH) I think you can figure it
    out). And the god of Love well that was a
    position for a woman. They said I could have that
    job, but only if I went to Sweden and started
    wearing dresses (that ruled out that one).

    The last one left open was the god of Brussel
    sprouts. Well I went through all the training and
    I was kind of curious as to why they had me take
    dance lessons...... Until that graduation night
    when they handed me my official GOD of Brussels
    Sprouts uniform. It is this off green color...
    and it has wings and a very cool glowing green
    wand that makes things grow. My first night was
    kind of fun Prancing through the fields the wings
    flapping in the breeze, waving my wand and making
    things grow. I can't Wait until tomorrow.

    My second night was fun, waving my wand jumping
    fences in a single bound, until that horrible
    electric fence almost killed me. After I ran into
    it I tripped and fell into a cow pie. Well the
    burns were not all that bad.

    My third night and everything went wrong. I went
    to surprise my mom out in Arizona. She thought I
    was a burglar and took a shot at me.... when she
    finally calmed down I tried talk to her and she
    disowned me she said I was an embarrasment to the
    family. I was so pissed when I left that I flew
    right into a 20 foot tall Cactus. Stupid suit
    will protect me from bullets but not cactus
    needles, electricity, water, the salt that
    farmers shoot at me. I hate this job.

    My forth night and I almost lost it. A farmer
    tracked me for eight miles because of that stupid
    glowing green wand. He shot me with that salt
    loaded shotgun about a dozen times (I have welts
    all over my body). One good thing, he ran into
    his own electric fence..... right after I did. I
    Hate that farmer, This job. And the dry cleaner
    who said If I am going to be rolling around in
    Cow S**t night after night he is not going to
    clean the suit anymore. So I got stuck cleaning
    it and now my house smells like Cow S**t.

    I QUIT. This putrid green spandex outfit and its
    wings.... and a glowing green wand that the
    farmers can see a mile away. How embarrasing
    Prancing Through fields of Sprouts wearing that
    horrible outfit (it doesn't even have a cape that
    flaps in the breeze just those F**king wings that
    get stuck on every twig and branch). With Irate
    (F**king) farmers shooting at you, Cow pies,
    electric horse fences and barbwire. This was a
    real poor job choice, I think I'll look at the
    job postings and see if the GOD of Thunder is
    open. Then I'll go visit that F**king farmer and
    his electric fence.

     

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  4.  
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    ojkelly (profile), Sep 4th, 2009 @ 9:02pm

    I cannot agree more that technogoly and the internet has made me a better writer. Far better than say my english class back in school.

    It really comes do to, the more you practice it, the better you get. The internet is just a communications platform at the end of the day, and the easiest method of communication is through text.

    So we all write. A lot.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Ben, Sep 5th, 2009 @ 12:58pm

    MMO typing lessons

    In highschool I had typing class. 20 WPM was the minimum to pass, noone took the course seriously, especially the male members. We goofed around. We did as little as possible. Even the teacher had little thought about this particular course. I passed. I had 21WPM.

    After I graduated, too pass my time I started playing FFXI. I was a Black Mage. I made some friends, we chatted while playing. Thing was I didn't have a lot of time while fighting to talk, but I tried anyway. Cast spell, type something real quick, cast another spell, another spell, heal, type something, get up and cast. Talk to the people I was fighting with to coordinate, type something to a friend, cast a spell. It was dificult at first and seems a confusion, perhaps it was.

    I can type at 40WPM with one hand now. Not only has my speed doubled, I need half the hands. Sure I can use both, I am right now, but I can get by quite well with only one. The only experience I had at the time was MMO gaming. I had no other practice. MMO is internet.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2009 @ 1:33pm

    This seems true of lots of technology...when I was younger...

    Digital watches/clocks were wrecking our ability to read regular clocks.
    Hand-held digital calculators were ruining our math skills.
    Word processing was killing our hand-writing skills.
    Television and video games were turning our brains to mush.

    Somehow we still manage to read clocks, do math, write things down and generally be productive. Imagine that, some things just got easier and now we can do more complicated things.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2009 @ 2:52am

    "Oh, I know I'm am much better able to write and debate and explain myself and express myself more clearly as a result of engaging in conversations over the Internet than I was able to several years ago. Sure, much of that could simply be that I learn as I get older but much of it is also the Internet. Then again, the Internet does take away from me reading textbooks, electronics books, programming books, and other books that I used to read a lot more before blogs were around. I also don't really read the newspaper much anymore as a result of the Internet mostly because newspapers don't cover topics that I'm interested in or at least they don't fairly present all sides of an issue (something the Internet does a much better job of)."

    No one else noticed the errors above? Was this a troll attempt? No one saw it? :|

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Haywood, Sep 6th, 2009 @ 6:40am

    Now if we could just

    Now if we could just learn the difference between lose and loose, your and you're, to two and too, effect and affect, it would be a wonderful world.

     

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  9.  
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    Claire, Sep 6th, 2009 @ 8:14am

    So why hasn't it shown up in the article here?

    The article contains lines like this: "This is really fascinating when you think about it."

    Perhaps the writer would do well to pick up a copy of Strunk & White.

    He could've just said, "This is fascinating." Same effect.

     

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  10.  
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    Aaron McConnell, Sep 6th, 2009 @ 9:02am

    Re: So why hasn't it shown up in the article here?

    Good point! Your comment reminds me of Orwell's 1984. They take words out of the language every year so people aren't as able to express how bad they feel.

    Or if you want me to say it in your version:
    Your point bad.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    CB the cat, Sep 6th, 2009 @ 1:32pm

    I can haz riting!!?!

     

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  12.  
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    Preston Martin, Sep 6th, 2009 @ 1:34pm

    One thing I noticed is my penmanship has decreased significantly. I no longer need to write anything except my signature and sticky notes, everything else I can type.

     

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  13.  
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    zcat, Sep 6th, 2009 @ 2:26pm

    Re:

    I've read it through a number of times and I can't see any obvious errors. The punctuation could be better though.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2009 @ 9:14pm

    Re: Re: So why hasn't it shown up in the article here?

    I think you mean ungood.

     

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  15.  
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    Enrico Suarve, Sep 7th, 2009 @ 8:56am

    Re: writing ... just for a laugh ....

    You know a farmer who puts an electric fence around his brussel sprouts? A tad extreme methinks, I grow sprouts and they rarely wander far

    On the other hand this might explain why my crop has been crappy this this year, thanks for nothing

    So you stick to wanding godboy and give me the farmers address, I'll fill him in for you (think of it as outsourcing). While I'm at it I'll even see if I can find out where he does his laundry

    PS You wouldn't know who to speak to about beans and peas would you?

    PPS Is there a god of slugs and how many do I have to kill before I am damned eternally?

     

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  16.  
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    Janey, Sep 7th, 2009 @ 12:48pm

    Re: So why hasn't it shown up in the article here?

    The English language often uses emphatic phrases which in effect say the same thing twice. This is perfectly acceptable and it is fatuous to say that some of the sentence should be cut out and it would have the same effect. It wouldn't.
    Anyway, I am not sure that "this is fascinating" and "when you think about it" are a repetition. Something can surely be fascinating without thinking about it for more than a moment, or it can become fascinating only when you do think about it.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 7th, 2009 @ 1:31pm

    Shouldn't that read better at writing?

     

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  18.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 7th, 2009 @ 10:19pm

    Re: So why hasn't it shown up in the article here?

    Perhaps the writer would do well to pick up a copy of Strunk & White.

    Bah. Emphasis on Strunk & White is highly overrated (though, I do own a copy):

    http://chronicle.com/article/50-Years-of-Stupid-Grammar/25497

    People use the language in different ways. Live with it.

     

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  19.  
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    naija_ninja, Sep 8th, 2009 @ 3:50am

    except shortening words

    technology has helped a lot. the only problem is in the lol and other annoying acronyms? some of us from a different culture are not familiar with some stuff

     

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  20.  
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    Charles Rutledge, Sep 8th, 2009 @ 9:11am

    Boosting Literacy

    In uncertain times like these, we should try to improve literacy. http://socyberty.com/education/what-price-for-a-more-literate-society/

     

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  21.  
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    Alimas (profile), Sep 8th, 2009 @ 9:24am

    Re:

    My penmanship sucks.
    I can't do more than two short sentences without getting some extreme wrist cramps.

    The only writing I've done by hand in over ten years (except in a few short extenuating circumstances) is my signature.
    I even use Notepad instead of an actual notepad.

     

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  22.  
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    Crabby, Sep 8th, 2009 @ 11:06am

    Re: So why hasn't it shown up in the article here?

    Spock says, "Fascinating."

     

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  23.  
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    Dizzley, Sep 8th, 2009 @ 9:54pm

    Re:

    "technogoly and the internet has made me a better writer".

    LQTM.

     

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  24.  
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    Cor, Sep 8th, 2009 @ 10:51pm

    Inconclusive Bunk

    One of these studies is of Stanford students. Its gotten much harder to get into Stanford in the past 50 years, you really do need to be a good writer to get in. The study is bunk. Not that the conclusion might not be true. But you can't apply the results of Stanford students to society at large and call it conclusive.

     

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  25.  
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    Travis, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 2:57pm

    Agreed

    I guess I could see why some people would think it's "destroying our youths ability to write," yet on some levels, a lot of technology ENCOURAGES reading and writing.

    That being said, I still think the use of "text-speak" as I call it is a bit annoying, with all the "u's" and "r's" out there floating around.

     

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  26.  
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    Abram, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 5:22pm

    spread wide but thin

    My observation is that, while a much greater percentage of the population writes much more often, the quality of the writing, both in form and substance, is inferior to that of former generations of writers. I certainly noticed this with post-secondary education--while many more people have a university education, the quality of that education has deteriorated significantly. I notice glaring spelling and grammatical errors all over the place in ads, newspapers, magazines, books, etc. This deterioration of language, both in spoken and written form, is becoming increasingly evident among professors as well as also in the academic publications that contain their work. I suppose anything spread far and wide ends up stretched thin and spotty.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 1:41pm

    Re:

    Read your first sentence and explain how you are a better writer. The irony writes itself

     

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  28.  
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    Bridget (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 7:02am

    Better writers, not worse...

    I found this to be an interesting discussion. As a teacher you do begin to wonder if the whole technology explosion issue is having a negative effect on writers. I found this article both refreshing and inspiring. Of course technology is for a wider audience and totally valid way for children to be seen as publishers from an early age. It's cool that kids can put a slideshow up or a voice thread to send to a grandma living hundreds or thousands of miles away! My own class of 8 year olds do online collaborative writing projects on our class wiki and they absolutely love it. Like the article says maybe lots of those kids would not be writing much at all if it weren't for online collaboration.

     

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