Sunday, April 27, 2008

Have teens lost the ability to write?

Have teenagers lost the ability to form a coherent sentence? It's something I've been hearing off and on the last few years from hiring managers and teachers. Generally I chalk it up to the normal generational differences, but given results from a recent survey I may have to change my tune.

The survey results come from a new study out by the Pew Internet and American Life Project--"Writing, Technology, and Teens." The researchers conducted focus groups and a national telephone survey of 700 parent-child pairs in the fall of 2007.

Here are some of the results:
  • "85% of teens ages 12-17 engage at least occasionally in some form of electronic personal communication, which includes text messaging, sending email or instant messages, or posting comments on social networking sites." [They were twice as likely to send text messages as they were e-mail]
  • "60% of teens do not think of these electronic texts as “writing.”"
  • "50% of teens say they sometimes use informal writing styles instead of proper capitalization and punctuation in their school assignments"
  • "38% say they have used text shortcuts in school work such as “LOL”"
  • "25% have used emoticons (symbols like smiley faces ☺) in school work"
Wow. Color me wrong. I had no idea the practice was so rampant. But there may be a silver lining to this survey:
  • "86% of teens believe good writing is important to success in life"
and they may know how to improve things:
  • "82% of teens feel that additional in-class writing time would improve their writing abilities and 78% feel the same way about their teachers using computer-based writing tools"
So is this a big deal for recruitment and assessment? Potentially, if the work that needs to be done requires traditional, formal writing skill. But what if it doesn't? And what happens when this generation becomes managers--will they care if their subordinates use shortcuts and emoticons?

If one thing is made clear by this survey, it's not that teens don't think writing is important. It's that we may be in for a slight evolution in our written language. We may need to re-think the answer to this question: What is good writing?

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