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Is email ruining the way we write?

[link to a newspaper that ran this AP story]

Associated Press (ASAP)
- December 12, 2005

OMG, some people R saying that e-mail and IMs R bad for writing!


In fact, it seems to be an FAQ: Have e-mail and instant messaging -- and
their various shorthands -- helped or hurt the writing habits of young

Jim Farrelly, a professor of English at the University of Dayton for nearly
four decades, said he's appalled by papers his students hand in.

"They don't even know the format of a memo anymore," Farrelly lamented. "I
have to reteach all of that."

But Leila Christenbury, a professor of English education at Virginia
Commonwealth University in Richmond, said the problem is being blown out of

"It's a nonissue," said Christenbury, "akin to the deep concern that people
wouldn't learn their times tables because now we have calculators."

At issue is whether the informality of electronic communication -- which
often includes smiley faces and abbreviations yet lacks capitalization and
punctuation -- has sounded the death knell of proper, written English.

David Kaplan, a 26-year-old who works for a media research firm in New
York, said he e-mails his co-workers throughout the day to communicate "in
the quickest way possible."

Spelling and capital letters, he acknowledged, often fall by the wayside.

"Merriam, Webster and Strunk and White would be rolling over in their
graves if they saw what was going on these days," said Kaplan.


But he knows the difference between interoffice communication and e-mail
sent to clients, and he makes "a conscious effort" to switch from informal
to formal writing as the case requires.

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Moreover, Kaplan said the constant typing has streamlined his thought
process, making it easier to put his thoughts on paper (or on screen).

That's exactly why Al Filreis, director of the Center for Programs in
Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania, thinks frequent
e-mail improves writing: "To become a better writer, you have to write."

Filreis recalled how, when he was younger, his sisters would come home from
school and talk on the phone for hours. Today, he said, his 11-year-old
daughter comes home and electronically chats through e-mail and IMs --
writing she wouldn't be doing if she were on the phone.

But Bob Lannon, a 21-year-old linguistics major at Temple University, has
studied instant messaging and said he's "not sure it's really making
anybody a better writer." IMing lacks even the loose structure that can be
found in e-mail, he said, making it the written equivalent of casual

"There's a lot of very strict requirements for academic writing or business
writing that sets it apart from casual, everyday speech," said Lannon.
"People were hoping instant messenger would encourage kids to adopt skills
that they want them to be using in their school papers, but ... the instant
messenger resembled casual speech much more."

Farrelly also thinks the immediacy of IM and e-mail is detrimental,
encouraging people to write without revising. That translates into students
turning in unedited work, he said.

"We are in an instant kind of generation. We like things fast and furious
and immediate. I think we have to de-emphasize that a bit," Farrelly said.

Though there are fleeting aspects to e-mail, it really is more permanent
than many people realize, said Filreis.

And that can be a good thing -- especially for literary archives.

"We write more and we have the technological capacity to save
correspondence better, more efficiently than ever," he said. "The archive
is going to be deeper and richer because of electronic communication."

If you can figure out all those emoticons and abbreviations.

JK. ;-) Kathy Matheson is a writer in AP's Philadelphia bureau.