By Dr. Charles Johnson
Adjunct Professor, School of Business at American Public University
A staple of the online classroom is the discussion forum. On one hand this is familiar, because people have experience chatting on social programs like e-mail, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But, social media habits are not always appropriate in academics.
When assignments are addressed on-line, many people use their social media communicating techniques and take on a conversational and not necessarily accurate approach.
Social Media Writing
An example of this is something as simple as sending a picture of an event or item explained with a picture. It may look like this (with misspellings):
Here is a picture I posted of my 63 VW RagTop.
- Wow! That brings back so very many memories.
- Remember when tryan to climb yer bug up them steepy hils in HS and we could not make it?
- What about putting chains on tires to drive in the snow to BB?
- How about the speeding ticket to Vegas? I do, it were awesome!!! #won $500 #lost my paycheck
The impact in the classroom is that some students are accustomed to poor to spelling and grammar; they try to answer as quickly as possible. Students tend to rush their academic papers too. Writing follows fewer and fewer rules. Writing with pronouns is another easy mistake.
The following examples show 1) 1st person and 2) 3rd person writing.
- When I decided to write my dissertation on revitalization of a small town, I had to develop a plan. I chose to write a survey to the residents and shopkeepers in the town. I collected the surveys and then did a statistical analysis of the survey to verify my hypotheses.
- This researcher developed a plan to gather information for his dissertation on revitalization. The survey was written and distributed to the residents and shopkeepers in the town. After the surveys were collected, statistical analysis was used to verify hypotheses.
The first example, written as a discussion, is similar to communications in social media. The second, provides the same information and is written as an academic statement in the same atmosphere.
The immediate difference between the two examples is the use of pronouns, which show a point of view. In first person, I or we is used; in second person, you or yours; and third person, he, she, or it. Each use changes the confidence level of the work, which in academics is important for how the submission is viewed by the reader of researcher.
Many tools can help with spelling and grammar. Programs check for spelling, grammar issues, passive voice, and readability levels. These are important for ensuring that writing is up to par for the academic environment.
Technology also makes mistakes easier and can create lazy writers. In addition to using tools students need to carefully read their work before they submit it.
Academic Writing Issues
Passive Sentences. Princeton’s WordNet describes passive voice as: “the voice used to indicate that the grammatical subject of the verb is the recipient (not the source) of the action denoted by the verb.” At the undergrad level, many schools set an acceptable level of writing expected. At the undergrad level, 20 percent passive voice is generally acceptable, 10 percent at the graduate level, and 5 percent at the doctoral level.
Flesh Reading Ease or Readability. Statistics show the ease understanding of written information. According to Princeton’s WordNet, readability is: “the quality of written language that makes it easy to read and understand.”
Flesh-Kincaid Grade Level or Writing Level. This is the grade level of the written document. Reading level for newspapers is from fifth grade to ninth grade (Johns & Wheat, 1984). Students should understand expectations for writing level of their academic work; again, each year of study may have differing levels of expectation.
Writing skills are perishable and need constant maintenance or improvement. Professors must foster proper academic writing and students must ensure that they are using good writing skills in their academic work.
About the Author
Dr. Charles Johnson is an adjunct professor at American Public University. He has a Doctorate in Business Administration Jones International University. He teaches business analytics, operations research, and the senior seminar in General Studies. He is a retired US Marine pilot.
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