People Say One Thing, Write Another

from the consistency-is-overrated dept

If you’ve ever had to read out loud something that you’ve written, you’ll often notice that it feels a bit uncomfortable. Even though you wrote it, the words don’t feel right when you speak them. A new study looking at how people respond to written surveys and phone-based surveys found that people answer differently based on what type of survey they’re facing. Basically, they found that our brains work differently when we’re speaking than when we’re writing. Perhaps this is just because when you’re talking to someone on a phone, you’re much more conscious of the person on the other side of the conversation. When you’re writing, the audience is more separated. The researchers talk about how this could impact survey results, especially when an initial survey is done one way and a later one done another way. However, what’s not clear from the article (and the research isn’t out yet) is how profound those differences are. Do people actually think differently, or is it just that they explain themselves slightly differently? There are certainly plenty of people who prefer to answer questions one way or the other — but is one way “more honest” or are they just different?

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Comments on “People Say One Thing, Write Another”

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Pocky says:

I always remember writing papers in school and spending hours wiriting up the perfect presentation, then having to stop myself to re-word something I’ve written because it didn’t sound right when I said it outloud. Everyone has experianced this at some point or another, just another example. Weither you think differently, or just more contious when speaking is debatable.

Chris says:

Like the previous poster mentioned, I think this has a lot to do with the fact that when you are reading or writing, you are concentrating solely on the content and have time to go over a sentence again to make sure you understand everything. When speaking, your automatic responses kick in and you tend to focus less on the content of the conversation and more on the person you’re speaking to.

Peter Rambo says:


I know that I speak and write very differently. I never spoke as a child, and in the past 5 or 6 years I’ve worked very hard on just being able to tell a story that lasts more than 15 seconds. Any longer than that and I fumble details and become incoherent.

In high school, I had no friends because of my dead communications skills. It wasn’t until I got to college and discovered AIM that I had real conversations with anybody. I can’t speak, but I can type/write.

From personal experience, they’re two completely different forms of communication. And while yes, the ability to reflect on what you’ve written plays a part, I almost never re-read what I type into instant messenger programs anymore.

There is a simple reason for the first statement. Most people’s writing sounds unnatural aloud because most people are terrible writers. Just read this article aloud. It sounds natural because Mike is a good writer.

Eleeterate says:

I partly agree with anonymous coward above… people, for the most part, don’t think before they speak. I also think that when you’re writing you’re using a more analytical, logical part of your brain than when you’re speaking. Combine the two and you could very well have people answering completely differently for written surveys than spoken ones. Most of the dumbasses out there never pay attention to what they’re saying… ever hear someone contradict themself in the same sentence… several times?

Eleeterate says:

oh yea… and written things sound unnatural when you speak them most of the time because of the rhythm. Ask any musician, put too much thought into what you’re playing and, more importantly, when you’re playing and you’re going to lose rhythm. So when you write you over analyze and the natural rhythm of speech goes away. It also helps that most people don’t talk in complete (although coherent) sentences.

Tashi says:

Writing the way people talk is a specific style. It’s called prose. So unless one is purposely writing prose, writing one way and speaking another is normal, because you learn to read and write standard/formal English, and almost noone actually speaks that way, (as someone else stated) with English being the bastardized language that it is.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

writing one way and speaking another is normal, because you learn to read and write standard/formal English, and almost noone actually speaks that way

I think that’s sort of missing the point of the study. We’re not talking about formal/non-formal English, but about people saying completely different things when asked the same questions — once written, once spoken. The difference goes beyond style.

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