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Texting IS Writing

posted: 5.12.11 by Andrea Lunsford

Recently, I followed a thread on the WPA Listserv pondering the question, “Is texting writing?”  The thread took off, from Jeff Grabill’s appearance on Inside Higher Education’s “Academic Minute.” Jeff took his minute to  question those who continue to bemoan the state of literacy today. (Since the 1880s, we have had a “literacy crisis” roughly every thirty years in the United States, so the current one is just an echo of many others—just with different technologies as the culprit.) People, Grabill argued, fail to recognize that young generations today are writing—and I would add reading—more than at any time in the history of the world; this is what I mean when I talk about a “literacy revolution.”  Those who view any change as a decline see new literacies, those enabled by digital technologies, as cause of diminished literacy.  Instead, as Grabill pointed out, literacy today is just different than it was 50 years ago, changing and shifting and morphing—as literacy always has.  Students today are particularly good at communicating through text messaging and through the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.  And they have an acute sense of audience and purpose, what I think of as rhetorical awareness, though they wouldn’t use that phrase.

Perhaps most of all, they are inseparable from their phones, which Grabill called “the new pencil.”  With these phones, they are keeping in touch with friends and family, taking notes, writing texts of all kinds—even novels. (The cell phone novel has been a phenomenon in Japan for some time now.)  So YES, texting is writing, and we need to be paying very close attention to it and learning from our students how they are using this new “pencil.”  I expect that textual features will change under the influence of this medium, just as such features changed with the advent of print type.  Looking back, we can see the average paragraph length shorten as newspapers became ubiquitous—those narrow columns needed to be broken up to be reader friendly—and over the decades paragraphs in other genres got shorter too.  Trying to understand changes to conventions and patterns of communication is one reason I ask my students to talk with me about the apps they find most useful, about how many different kinds of writing they do with their phones, and about what they think characterizes effective text messages.  They have a lot to say about all these issues, and I for one am ready to listen.

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Categories: Campus Issues, Critical Thinking
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4 Responses to “Texting IS Writing”

  1. Jack Solomon, CSUN Says:

    Yes, texting is writing, but it is writing that follows very different conventions from those that writing instructors are expected to teach, lacking the sentence structure, sentence-to-sentence transitions, paragraph structure, paragraph-to-paragraph transitions, argument/thesis structure, punctuation, spelling, critical thinking, and even “voice” (since the constricted circumstances of texting produce what is in effect a single universal voice) that are all essential elements of composition. Unless we are prepared to abandon these compositional elements (and at the moment it is not really our choice to do so), the difference between texting and expository writing presents a challenge that is parallel to that of teaching students that talking isn’t writing.

  2. Patrick Neylan Says:

    All media have different needs, so text messaging has its own conventions. Text-speak is appropriate to that medium, so long as it can be understood. I even use exclamation marks in texts, although I almost never use them anywhere else.

  3. bonnie lenore kyburz, utah valley university Says:

    Elizabeth Birmingham presented a wonderful talk on the keitai novel at C&W 2009. amazing work!!

  4. Andrea lunsford Says:

    Thanks for these thoughtful comments. My students seem increasingly “ambidextrous” to me, that is able to switch from texting mode to academic mode to spoken mode with a fair amount of facility. I like asking them to reflect on this ability and get them doing some metacognition about it.

    Best to all