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Latest News On “Textisms”

posted: 3.14.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Latest News On “Textisms”

This word just in from Australia and Canada:  “textisms” are not appearing in students’ formal writing, at least not in any appreciable number.

I am always on the lookout for studies of how new technologies are affecting student writers and their writing, and especially those that look for all the supposed ill effects such technologies are having.  Thus I was delighted to read a recent article by Abbie Grace, Nenagh Kemp, Frances H. Martin, and Rauno Parrila in New Media and Society, published December 22, 2013.  Here’s the abstract of the article (which, incidentally, appeared online before in print):

Students’ increasing use of text messaging language has prompted concern that textisms

(e.g., 2 for to, dont for don’t, ☺) will intrude into their formal written work. Eighty-six Australian and 150 Canadian undergraduates were asked to rate the appropriateness of textism use in various situations. Students distinguished between the appropriateness of using textisms in different writing modalities and to different recipients, rating textism use as inappropriate in formal exams and assignments, but appropriate in text messages, online chat and emails with friends and siblings. In a second study, we checked the examination papers of a separate sample of 153 Australian undergraduates for the presence of textisms. Only a negligible number were found. We conclude that, overall, university students recognise the different requirements of different recipients and modalities when considering textism use and that students are able to avoid textism use in exams despite media reports to the contrary.

You can also read a brief article about the study in Pacific Standard.

These findings are encouraging, though not surprising, to me, since they corroborate what my own research on student writing in the U.S. has been telling me for the last five years:  college students today have a strong sense of audience as well as of what is timely and appropriate for that audience.  These sensibilities are enhanced, rather than diminished, by their social media writing and reading online.

What seems most interesting to me now—rather than continuing to debate whether technology is ruining literacy (which it clearly is not)—is to try to describe in much greater detail what student writing today actually looks like and does.  Since archives of student writing are now available at a number of schools, I’d like to see a really close study of a random sample of student writing from, say, 2000 or 2001 compared to a random sample from 2014.  How do the essays compare—in length, in syntax, in vocabulary, in stance and tone, in organizational patterns or structures, in forms of transitions, and in rhetorical “moves”?  My guess is that we’d see some fascinating consistencies along with some intriguing differences, and that such studies would help us take a critical look at first-year writing curricula and pedagogies.

If you know of such studies or are doing one yourself, please let me know:  it’s time for a new generation of basic research on student writing!


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