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Is Texting Writing?

Is Texting Writing?

Written by Erin Wilkey Oh
September 12, 2011

We found the types of writing that participants report most frequently are text messages and emails, along with some forms of academic writing. Texting was particularly important, as participants reported doing it frequently and valuing it highly. We expected the frequency. That participants valued texting surprised us.

–Jeff Grabill, speaking on “The Academic Minute” from Inside Higher Ed. Listen to the podcast here.

The May 4, 2011 edition of “The Academic Minute” podcast from Inside Higher Ed features Jeff Grabill of Michigan State University. In this podcast, titled “Is Texting Writing?,” Grabill shares findings from a 2010 study on the writing practices of college students. As the quote above reveals, results of the study show that participants ranked text messaging highly in both frequency of use and value. However, the question that frames this study briefing is presented in the very title of the podcast: Is Texting Writing?

Texting Is (Is Not) a Writing Genre The comments section below Grabill’s podcast shows how polarizing the discussion of digital short forms can be in the academic community. Educators on both sides of the argument have strong opinions about what types of writing should be valued in the academic world. Debates persist about the use of mobile devices for education. Some view them only as classroom distractions. Others suggest educators should take advantage of the ubiquity of mobile devices and find ways to embrace them in the classroom. Additional disagreements surround the value of digital short forms. Many scoff at the assertion that texting or tweeting is a valuable genre of writing. Yet, there is evidence that short forms can add valuable layers to classroom practice.

What do you think? Is texting writing?

Context: The Study and Findings
In 2010, Jeff Grabill along with colleagues from the Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Center at Michigan State University conducted a study in order to better understand the writing practices of college students. The study group conducted a survey, titled Revisualizing Composition: The Writing Lives of College Students, gathering data from 1366 students enrolled in first-year writing classes at seven institutions across the country.   

Results of the survey provide insight into the following research questions: 

  • What are students writing in and out of school?
  • How do students value the writing they do?
  • Do students from different institution types compose and value different types of writing?
  • Why do participants write what they write?
  • What are participants writing with particular technologies?
  • With whom are participants writing?

The study’s white paper summarized the initial findings:

  • SMS texts (i.e., texts using short message services on mobile devices), emails, and lecture notes are three of the most frequently written genres (or types) of writing
  • SMS texts and academic writing are the most frequently valued genres
  • Some electronic genres written frequently by participants, such as writing in social networking environments, are not valued highly
  • Students write for personal fulfillment nearly as often as for school assignments
  • Institution type is related in a meaningful way to the writing experiences of participants, particularly what they write and the technologies used
  • Digital writing platforms—cell phones, Facebook, email—are frequently associated with writing done most often
  • Students mostly write alone, and writing alone is valued over writing collaboratively

For a more in-depth look at the results of this WIDE Research Center study, view or download the white paper.

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