21st Century Writing: More Does Not Always Mean Better


The ability to write well is meant to evolve naturally from a few simple sentences on a first-grader’s notebook to the polished draft of a senior paper, and when it does the entire school experience tends to proceed naturally as well. In the workforce, good writing is the hallmark of a professional that can express himself clearly and display one’s company/product in an attractive way. This has only become more true in today’s world, where email, text messaging, and social media have taken over many of the communications that used to be performed by phone or in person.

In fact, the changing role of writing in the world today has many teachers wondering how they should adapt their teaching to make it more relevant to today’s writing needs, personally and professionally. Susan Lucille Davis, a writing teacher with over 30 years of experience, expresses this question in her blog, “Teaching Authentic Writing in a Socially Mediated World,” but admits that she herself doesn’t have the whole answer. She and many of her colleagues agree, however, that the answer would need to address and prove relevant towards improving writing in the following categories:

    • Text messages to friends/colleagues.
    • Captions for photos that express important information.
    • Questions that probe and dig for what matters.
    • Status updates that share a mood or point of view.
    • Comments on interactive websites that continue the conversation.
    • Product reviews that are convincing and detailed.
    • Emails written with the appropriate tone and length.
    • Collaborative documentation online, which requires more than simply dividing the work.
    • Tweets that add valuable insight to an online conversation.
    • Blogs that allow ideas and information to percolate over time.
    • Citizen journalism that is current and relevant.
    • Storyboards and scripts for the many different types of videos being made today.
    • Proposals to make, do, or change something.
    • Process analyses that help examine the way things work.
    • Syntheses that help organize disparate resources and media.
    • Reflections that share transparently and probe thoughtfully.

This rather daunting list points out a clear gap between traditional writing education and the evolution of writing needs in the world today. At the same time, it makes clear just how important writing skills have become in a world where every individual is a user and a maker, a consumer and a producer. The role of writing has expanded to the point where there’s hardly a place left in American society for someone who isn’t fluent in text.

Recent statistics support this idea. According to various studies cited by Gene A. Budig in his article, “Studies Show the Importance of Writing Skills,” 8 out of 10 parents believe writing is more important now than it was 20 years ago. 86% of teens believe that good writing predicts future success, and 82% express a wish to write better and for teachers to address the topic more in their classrooms. The highest percentage of teens who believed this came from minority and low-income groups.

We don’t need a study to know trends in technology have expanded the role writing plays in our lives. People of all demographics and ages text, instant message, and email every day — many times a day. We’ve hung up on using verbal communication, and turned to the more convenient, efficient, and, arguably, most unsocial mode of communication: writing.

That doesn’t mean we are all better writers for it. We’ve seen the birth of textlish, like LOL, BRB, YOLO, which has become so standard in the English language that it crossed over into verbal communication. Twenty-first century writers come with autocorrect, which knows what you want to say faster than you can type it (sometimes). Social media has unveiled our friends that don’t know the difference between there, their, and they’re. Writing may be more prominent in our daily tasks, but it doesn’t mean the art and craft of writing, critical thinking, grammar or self reflection has become more prominent with it.

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