In the age of technology, does instant messaging enhance or hinder writing? A case study offers insights from a generation that’s never lived without the internet.
In the spring of 2021, I met with several high school directors. Each of them brought up the same concern: today’s high schoolers are struggling to obtain college-level writing skills. The directors blame this problem primarily on instant messaging (IM) and the internet, and they are unsure how to adjust their writing curriculum in order to meet this generation’s unique needs. This experience led me to wonder how the students themselves think IM has affected their writing. Perhaps with a clearer idea of young writers’ strengths and weaknesses, we can better address the confounding problems posed by the age of the internet.
Jill Adams’s 2007 study “Student Perceptions of the Impact of Instant Messaging on Academic Writing” addresses this issue by investigating how students perceive IM’s influence on their writing. Adams examined middle school students’ written documents and conducted interviews with five students to determine how they viewed their writing strengths and weaknesses. Their responses suggest that there are distinct positive and negative effects of IM on academic writing.
The perceived positive effects include the following:
- Speed: Students noted that IM has greatly increased the speed at which they write.
- Original ideas: Some students believed that IM helped them come up with original ideas and creative content in their academic writing.
- Voice: Many participants thought their voice in writing was greatly improved by IM. One student said, “I used to have really bad voice in my papers. I haven’t had a teacher ask for better voice anymore” (under “Impact of Instant Messaging on writing products”).
The perceived negative effects of IM are as follows:
- Lack of organization: Instant messages are typically written in one “paragraph” that can contain unrelated ideas. This unorganized style is also apparent in academic writing, as noted by one student: “On my papers, I tend to have really bad organization—my thoughts are all spread out or they’re all in the same long paragraph” (under “Impact of Instant Messaging on writing products”).
- Rushing: Students’ increased writing speed is a double-edged sword. While it provides certain advantages, it can also lead to mistakes, lack of proper planning, and omission of important details.
- Lack of proper mechanics: The study found that students’ papers had poor word choice, improper spelling and punctuation, and lack of capitalization. Students said they did not care about those mechanics when using IM.
These perceived positive and negative effects give us a glimpse at the advantages and disadvantages of the rising generation’s writers. In order to properly teach this generation how to improve their writing, educators must play to their strengths and assist them with their weaknesses. The middle school students of 2007 are also now the authors of today, so editors may need to more frequently help their authors with organizing thoughts, planning, including important details, and applying an appropriate mechanical style.
Individuals who grew up with instant messaging need not be an enigma; if we understand their unique advantages and disadvantages, we unlock the key to their writing success.
To learn more about how students perceive the effects of IM, read the full article:
Adams, Jill. 2007. “Student Perceptions of the Impact of Instant Messaging on Academic Writing.” Literacy Learning: The Middle Years 15 (2): 37–45. https://go.gale.com/ps/anonymous?id=GALE%7CA166201100&sid=googleScholar&v=2.1&it=r&linkaccess=abs&issn=13205692&p=AONE&sw=w
—Kennadie Halliday, Editing Research
FEATURE IMAGE BY PRISCILLA DU PREEZ
Find more research
For more on technology’s impact on editing, check out Madeline Hill’s Editing Research article “Online Editing: The Effects of Technology on Future Editors.”
Read Sheelah M. Sweeny’s (2011) article to learn more about teaching the IM generation how to improve their writing: “Writing for the Instant Messaging and Text Messaging Generation: Using New Literacies to Support Writing Instruction.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 54 (2): 121–30. https://doi.org/10.1598/JAAL.54.2.4.