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A large number of teens feel that language more appropriately used in e-mails, text messaging and online postings has made its way into their school work, according to a new survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

About 50 percent of teenagers said they write something for school nearly every day. More than one-third reported having a written assignment several times a week. Most survey respondents, 73 percent, contend that using computers and text-based communications did not influence their formal writing. However, nearly two-thirds, 64 percent, admitted to including, often accidentally, the informal writing more commonly associated with electronic forms of communication.

A Girl Thing

One out of four surveyed said they had used emoticons in their school writing, while half said they had used informal punctuation and grammar. A little more than a third of the teens said they had used texting abbreviations including “LOL” in their formal writing.

Younger teens are more likely to make the writing faux pas. Girls are much more likely to use text shortcuts from instant messaging (IM) or e-mail than their male counterparts — 45 percent as opposed to 33 percent. The gap between girls and boys using emoticons is even larger, with twice as many girls (35 percent) than boys (17 percent) using them in their communications.

“[Girls] overall are more intensive users of electronic communication, so it may make sense that they are using these kinds of styles more frequently anyway. So, there’s a greater chance that it would become second nature to them,” said Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Generational Communication

While the inclusion of a smiley or “OMG” in a teenager’s written school work may set some English purists’ teeth on edge, according to Lenhart, the behavior is not specific to this generation.

“One of the things we’ve been talking about — this bleed of these informal styles from electronic communications into writing — is that actually this is similar to something teachers have had to deal with for a long time: the problem of slang language,” she told TechNewsWorld.

For decades, and even longer, educators have had to teach their pupils what forms of language are suitable to include in a formal writing. Electronic slang is simply a new lesson that should be incorporated into writing instruction for teens, Lenhart explained.

“Teachers have taught that slang does not belong in formal or professional-based writing. Now they need to teach that this kind of text-based slang or informal styling also does not belong in that type of writing,” she added.

That’s Not Writing

The survey of 700 teenagers, ages 12 to 17, also revealed that the majority of respondents, 85 percent, said they occasionally e-mail, text and post comments on social networking sites. However, most of them, 60 percent, do not consider them “writing” per se.

The general consensus on writing skills among the under-18 crowd was that good writing skills are an important component to success later in life. Eight out of 10 parents and 86 percent of teenagers said that a good writing ability is more important than now than it was 20 years ago.

As a result of the greater importance placed on writing, 82 percent of teens said their writing would improve if teachers could devote a greater proportion of class time to refining writing skills.

“They would like to see more instruction, more class time and the opportunity to use some of the technological tools and use computer-based applications to help build some enthusiasm for writing,” Lenhart pointed out.

“There’s a desire to draw that enthusiasm for electronic communications and bring it into more school-based writing. Educators as well as teens think that bringing technology into the classroom might have that result,” she added.

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