By Connie Regan
We’ve included this article as educational “News you can use.” Remember, good writing stems largely from lots of good reading! This article originally appeared at Back to Basics Learning Dynamics. The firm has graciously allowed us to reprint it.
Today’s “e” world is a whirlwind of electronic messages sent over email, text, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. Children, teens, and adults send their most fleeting thoughts spinning around the world for the eyes of anyone with an Internet connection. For our teens, however, the bulk of these messages are informal, often abbreviated into a language unrecognizable as English to earlier generations.
Educators and parents are concerned that students, raised on abbreviated text messages, will be unable to communicate in formal Standard English. Students struggle to understand the importance of doing so. Why, they ask, is it important to write formally when they can communicate ideas as easily, and more quickly, with slang and txt? The answer is simple: presentation. Presenting the best ideas in an essay, letter, or email filled with errors is, as Bill Cosby described in a well-known sketch, like presenting a beautiful steak on a garbage can lid. The content may be wonderful, but no-one will be interested if it’s surrounded by careless (or worse, ignorant) errors – and even the most dedicated reader may miss content lost in a jumble of bad writing. The purpose of writing is to communicate, and readers who are distracted by errors are unable to focus on even the best ideas.
Further, good writing is important because written communications are (even more so in today’s electronic age) often the primary, if not the only, impression potential employers, customers, clients, and colleagues may have of an individual. Readers may perceive bad writers as ignorant or uneducated and therefore dismiss their ideas, even if they do understand them. Students may be personable, outgoing, genuine, intelligent, and skilled – but if they do not write well they may never have the chance to make their talents known.
The importance of writing goes deeper than the use of proper grammar and spelling, however (After all, even President Jackson cried, “It’s a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word!”). Writing is a skill tied inextricably to the thought process. Students who fire off text messages instantly answer before thinking and do not learn to process ideas thoroughly. They float on the surface of meaning, rather than exploring its depths. On the other hand, students who do write can use their writing as a tool for self-exploration. Once we generate ideas, writing also helps us to analyze them and to explore them in further depth. Many of my students who keep personal journals have come to moments of epiphany through their writing and have remarked on the insights they have gained into their own characters. Even the most innocent writing project can lead to insight into our own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.
The tragedy of the age of instant communication, then, is not so much the loss of the English language itself (for language is, by nature, forever changing and growing) as the loss of the gifts English has to offer those who use it. Language is a tool through which we connect to others and to ourselves – and if we lose the process of writing, we risk losing that connection as well.