Study: Teens See Disconnect Between Personal and School Writing


Extra Credit
Student Writing and Internet Usage

According to the Pew/National Commission on Writing study, 50 percent of teens write something for school every day. Ninety-four percent use the Internet for research for their school assignments at least occasionally, and 48 percent sad they use the Internet for research at least once per week.

More Information

--D. Nagel

Students see a distinction between the writing they do for school and the writing they do in their personal lives. While the vast majority of 12- to 17-year-olds (85 percent) engage in some form of electronic writing--IM, e-mail, blog posts, text messages, etc.--most (60 percent) don't consider this actual writing. That's one of the findings from a study released last week by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools and Colleges.

The study, Writing, Technology and Teens, involved 700 students aged 12 to 17 and their parents, who were polled via phone in November 2007. It also included data collected from focus groups conducted in summer 2007 in four different cities in the United States.

According to the study, 73 percent of the teens surveyed said their electronic communications have no impact on on their formal (school) writing, and 63 percent said that "using computers to write makes no difference in the quality of the writing they produce" outside of school assignments. A full 93 percent of students do engage in some form of writing outside school, whether electronic or otherwise.

However, 57 percent of the teens surveyed said they do edit and revise their work more when they write on a computer--whether that writing be for school or not--and 64 percent admitted that conventions from their informal writing do creep into their formal writing occasionally (such as the use of emoticons and common abbreviations, like LOL).

"There is a raging national debate about the state of writing and how high-tech communication by teens might be affecting their ability to think and write," said Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at Pew and co-author of the report, in a statement released Thursday. "Those on both sides of the issue will see supporting data here. There is clearly a big gap in the minds of teenagers between the 'real' writing they do for school and the texts they compose for their friends. Yet, it is also clear that writing holds a central place in the lives of teens and in their vision about the skills they need for the future."

Eighty-six percent of teens surveyed said they thought "good writing ability" would be important for later success in life, according to the survey, and 82 percent said they thought their writing would improve if their teachers spent more time on it in class. Most (82 percent) indicated that their typical writing assignments were a page or less in length.

Said Richard Sterling, chair of the advisory board for the National Commission on Writing: "We think these findings point to a critical strategy question for all educators: How can we connect the enthusiasm of young people for informal, technology-based writing with classroom experiences that illuminate the power of [well organized], [well reasoned] writing?" Sterling is also executive director emeritus of the National Writing Project and senior fellow at the College Board.

So what does inspire students to write? According to the study's focus group results, motivations include:

  • Topics relevant to their own lives and experiences;
  • Teachers and other adults who challenge them;
  • Receiving detailed feedback on their work;
  • Opportunities to write creatively; and
  • Having an audience for their work.

The Writing, Technology and Teens survey results have a margin of error of ±5 percent. The complete study, including focus group results, is available in PDF form here.

Get daily news from THE Journal's RSS News Feed

About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at [email protected].

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at [email protected].

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .