From Pew Internet Research comes a disturbing report on teens (12-17), technology and writing.

In my household, with a 14-year-old and two parents paranoid on the subject, this report has landed like a bombshell!

While 87% of teens engage in some form of electronic personal communication — text messaging, email or instant messaging, posting comments on social networking sites — 60% of them do not think of these electronic texts as "writing."

Thank god, you might say.

But the study goes on to indicate the substantial extent to which the informal styles of electronic communication are carried into writing for school. Soon to come … the first dissertation using emoticons! So maybe they’ll be able to write web and email copy … but who’s going to write the direct mail?!

25% of teens report they have done creative writing in the past year. Only 8% report they have written an essay in that time. Interestingly, 6% have written computer programs!!

I guess the good news in the study is that 86% of teens believe that good writing ability is an important component of guaranteeing success later in life … with 56% terming it essential.

Call me a curmudgeon, but is there any evidence they are actually taught good writing in school? Indeed, in Pew’s focus groups (which greatly enrich their survey data), students complain about their teachers’ lack of interest in writing and their inability to provide useful feedback!

I say … let’s begin by making them (the students, that is … the teachers might be a lost cause) read Hemingway!

If there’s one saving grace of electronic personal communications, it’s brevity … direct, short sentences, short paragraphs. All of our writing — certainly mine — would benefit from that.

Here’s a nice piece on writing lessons from Hemingway … from a copywriting blog worth following.

Tom

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