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Almost anyone who cares about language and knows about or uses the Internet has been guilty at one time or another of demonizing the world wide web for its effects on the English language. “The Internet makes it easy for people, including professional writers, to publish writing publicly without editing.” “The Internet encourages casual writing and doesn’t reinforce proper writing skills.” “Students would write better if they weren’t on Facebook all the time.” It’s easy to blame the Internet and say that if it didn’t exist, written English would be on solid ground.
Let’s be realistic, though. We love the Internet. Very few people would like to go back to a time without email, instant messaging, video conferencing, or lolcats. Oh, lolcats! The world wide web is here, and it’s here to stay. Rather than focus on the supposed degradation of English, we should work on using the Internet to make writing better.
It’s important to note that many of the writing errors we see aren’t necessarily because of the Internet. People probably aren’t making more mistakes than they did before; it’s just that the mistakes are more visible now because of all the writing we do in emails, social media, and text messages. When we recognize this, other causes of language degradation enter the picture. Many are more systemic than Internet use and have been issues for decades, including (but not limited to) what is effectively stagnation in K–12 English reading and writing proficiency. (See the long-term national data on reading and writing. Note especially the middle and high school averages.)
To improve writing on the Internet, we need to improve writing in general. This must happen in the classroom, early and often. There are several great web tools to assist educators in this endeavor, of which Grammarly is only one. Other helpful resources include:
- interactive guides like those from ReadWriteThink;
- community forums and discussion boards, like Grammarly Answers and English Forums;
- quality word tools, such as Grammarly Words (a dictionary-thesaurus hybrid aimed at helping you choose the best words, not just different ones); and
- traditional teaching materials like those from The National Writing Project and The Schreyer Institute.
However, there is no escaping that for the most effective improvement, quality English and writing education needs to become a political and social priority.
Also, we must admit that, just as there are back alleys on the web where English gets kicked around, abused, and left to die (check out any YouTube comments section), there are also many places where correct language is still revered (see, especially, serious blogs and news sources, such as the New York Times). And there are many more places where the quality of the language is what you make of it; that is, both casual and more formal language styles are supported (Facebook and many other social networks are good examples). It is due to blogs, forums, and social networks that people are writing more than ever before. This is a good thing. Furthermore, the Internet is an equalizer; people from all strata of society are free to explore various kinds of writing as never before. This is a great thing.
We should let these communities thrive as they will, discouraging intellectual finger-pointing and encouraging context-appropriate writing along the way. However, we do need to teach people how to differentiate between informal textspeak and the formal, more standard writing style suited for public and professional writing.
What effect do you think the Internet has had on writing?