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4/25/2008
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'LOL' Slips Into Homework But Formal Writing Still Valued

Twenty-five percent of teens surveyed said they used emoticons in school writing and 38% said they used text shortcuts or abbreviations.

Teens text and e-mail frequently and they distinguish between electronic communications for socializing and formal writing in school and in their personal lives.

But that doesn't stop the informal styles form leaking into their school work and formal writing, according to results of phone surveys of 700 young people and their parents last year.

Eighty-five percent of people between the ages of 12 and 17 communicate electronically through texts, instant messaging, e-mail, and posts on social networking sites, but 60% of them don't think of their electronic text as "writing," according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the National Commission on Writing.

They found that the informal style that young people use in electronic communications leaks into school work, but teens' perception of how informal communication affects their formal writing appears weak in survey responses.

For example: while 73% of teens said their personal electronic communications do not impact school writing and 77% said they have no impact on their personal writing, 64% of teens admitted they use informal writing styles in school work, 50% said they used informal punctuation and grammar. Many of the respondents said they used those informal styles accidentally.

Twenty-five percent said they used emoticons in school writing and 38% said they used text shortcuts or abbreviations like "LOL."

"There is a raging national debate about the state of writing and how high-tech communication by teens might be affecting their ability to think and write," Amanda Lenhart, Pew senior research specialist co-author of the report, said. "Those on both sides of the issue will see supporting data here. There is clearly a big gap in the minds of teenagers between the 'real' writing they do for school and the texts they compose for their friends. Yet, it is also clear that writing holds a central place in the lives of teens and in their vision about the skills they need for the future."

Eighty-six percent of teens believe that the ability to write well is a key to success later in life. Eighty-two percent said they think their writing would improve if teachers spent more class time allowing students to write. African-Americans and those from lower-income households are most likely to believe in the link between writing ability and success and that more class time should be spent on writing.

Richard Sterling, advisory board chair of the National Commission on Writing, executive director emeritus of the National Writing Project, and senior fellow at the College Board, said the challenge for educators is to figure out how to translate students' enthusiasm for technology and informal writing into strong writing skills.

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