Author Archives: tristowne
When I taught high school, I heard quite a few teachers say that texting is killing the English language. They blame texting and emailing for the slow decline of proper writing and speaking skills. “The kids write like they talk, and they write incorrectly.” Funny thing is, the kids know what they’re saying to each other. And this text speak shows no signs of slowing.
Everywhere I go, people are walking around texting. They text in line, they text while shopping, driving, dining out, and they even text while attending classes and meeting. People are absolutely glued to their phones, and they are in a constant state of texting. What’s interesting, though, is that the hurried nature of texting makes it difficult to pay attention to grammar, so what we get is a new sort of shorthand that makes texting more efficient.
Whenever I receive a text, an email, or a Facebook message, many of the messages are riddled with “LOLs” and “jks” and “how r us”. It used to bother me, but now I find myself relenting and participating. But that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of switching on the “proper” writing rules.
I’m not as much of a stickler as some of my colleagues. I’ve been known to use a “2″ instead of a “to” or “two” on Twitter to make a sentence work, but that’s very rare. I feel the constant use of text speak is a sign of laziness, but also a sign of hurriedness. We’re giving up accuracy for efficiency, which has ups and downs.
As a blogger, I think one of the necessary discussions for digital writing is how to go about creating a meaningful blog. It seems a trend that people who think they should get into blogging assume their blog must be about themselves. I myself started blogging as a sort of diary or journal merely for my own purposes. But this brings up an interesting set of questions. Do people really want read about my life, and if I’m going to write about myself, how do I do it in a way to engage readers?
There are a great many ideas worth blogging about. There are so many different kinds of blogs that blogging itself hardly has a definition. At some point, a blogger must locate a theme, style, genre, or purpose and then write to the audience she wants to engage. This is self-promotion, to some degree. And when it comes to blog promotion, harnessing an understanding of your audience and knowing what the best blogs look like will help promote your blog.
Now, first of all, your blog must have a theme and recurring content of its own. Simply starting a blog account just so you can have arguments with people isn’t good blogging — it’s antisocial behavior and, frankly, a possible sign of a personality disorder. Negativity doesn’t translate well online. Then, what you need to do is a pick a theme that interests you, preferably one you’re fairly knowledgeable about already. Then work on providing good content in line with the suggestions provided by any reputable blogging advice site. Update regularly, frequently and with good material.
Honestly, the only way to grasp what is good material, you have to read. Read other blogs, preferably within your chosen theme, of course. Choose people whose work you agree with, some whose work you disagree with and, for flavor, a few people who are back and forth on your radar — neither just right nor entirely wrong all the time.
Reading will give you insight into what’s going on with your chosen topic. It’s the same as all types of writing — to be a good writer you must be a reader. Being well read will give you more to say to your own readers, because you’ll be well-informed and up-to-date on all the hot topics. Also, it’s a good establishment of your ethos to participate in the commenter communities of these blogs, establishing a reputation for yourself as someone who provides insightful commentary and polite participation.
All the best blogs keep their readers coming back because they keep to their themes and they update material frequently. Blogs left untouched for too long don’t maintain audiences.
For more tips on beginning blogging, check this article: http://econsultancy.com/us/blog/6123-ten-starter-tips-for-blogging-success
It should be a very key concept in writing studies that writing online means creating a version of yourself that will ultimately reflect on your reputation. Most social media users probably wouldn’t think of themselves as writer, when, in fact, that is what they are. We are creators of internet versions of ourselves, which can be both empowering and detrimental at once.
I see all sorts of bad choices on Facebook pages every day. The destroyed language. The derogatory remarks. The gossip. What we need is to remember that there are rules of engagement in social media communities.
Here is a helpful set of Rules laid out by Eric Brantner from Digital Labz:
1. Give More than You Receive- If you want to receive attention from others online, you have to be willing to give it first. It’s the old “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” routine. You can’t bust onto a social media site with a sense of entitlement thinking you should be a top user immediately. You have to earn respect from others. How do you do this? By giving more than you receive.
2. Don’t be a Keyboard Gangsta- Probably the worst thing about the Internet is the keyboard gangstas. You’ve surely run across at least one of these in your lifetime. They sit at their keyboard talking trash to everyone they encounter. They say things online that they would never have the nerve to say to a real person’s face. Don’t try to ruin everyone else’s online experience because you don’t have any friends in real life.
3. Add Value to the Site- At the end of the day, the thing that will earn you great connections with others is if you add value to the community. This means not submitting content that nobody cares about and not constantly promoting your brand. Before you ever submit anything to a social media site, ask yourself “Does this article really add value to the community?” If not, reconsider submitting it.
4. Don’t Sabotage Other’s Efforts- This is self-explanatory. Drop all of your e-beefs and hatred. Don’t try to bury others just for the sake of getting ahead. Making enemies on social media sites will get you nowhere fast, and you really do reap what you sow.
5. Remember that Cheaters Never Win- Instead of trying to game the system, why don’t you focus on building a successful social media presence the right way. Sure, you might be able to get some amazing results by cheating, but eventually, you will get caught. And once everyone sees you for the cheater you are, you can’t un-ring that bell.
6. Build Quality Relationships- People are more willing to help those who they really know. By building quality relationships with other users, you’ll always have someone in your corner to back you up. Remember, relationships require the participation of both parties; so, always be a good participant in your social media relationship.
7. Stop Pushing the Envelope- One of the fastest ways to alienate people online is to constantly flood them with requests for helping you out. Whether you’re constantly shouting your content or always Tweeting asking people to comment on your blog, eventually, everyone will lose their patience with you. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. People will tune you out if you’re constantly pushing the envelope.
8. Respect the Community- This might be the most important rule of social media etiquette. Show respect to the community. It’s not that hard to do. Just make sure you don’t step out of line, and always treat everyone the way you want to be treated. These are simple social skills you should already be following in real life; now, you just have to follow them online too.
9. Listen to Others- Your first reaction whenever someone disagrees with you online is probably to tell them how wrong they are. Instead of constantly fighting back, take the time to listen to what they’re really saying. Listen to the people commenting on your blog or Tweeting at you. Understand where they’re coming from. You don’t know everything, and you can learn from others if you take the time to listen.
10. Be Accountable for Your Actions- Because of the anonymity the Internet allows, there is little to no accountability online. People say and do whatever they please without facing any repercussions. Don’t be that guy. Instead, try to be honorable by taking responsibility your actions online. By being accountable, people will respect you, whether they agree with you or not.
11. Be Nice- All of these points add up to one thing—just be nice. Is it really too much to ask for people to be kind to one another? Call me old-fashioned if you like, but there’s nothing wrong with being nice to others online.
When writing teachers talk about “active v passive” we are really talking about verbs. Active voice in writing places the subject of the sentence as doing the action, while passive voice places the subject as receiving the action.
Active : Bob feeds his cat. Passive : The cat is fed by Bob.
English teachers like myself love to warn new writers against the evils of passive voice, although there are times when passive voice is warranted and times when it is not. Verbs in the passive voice have “to be” verbs helping them. A writer may choose to use the passive voice in order to emphasize one thing over another. In the second example, the cat (rather than Bob) becomes the most important component of the sentence. This example simply reflects the importance of varying sentence structures in complex writing scenarios.
According to Purdue University’s Online Writing Lag (OWL), “Active voice is used for most non-scientific writing. Using active voice for the majority of your sentences makes your meaning clear for readers, and keeps the sentences from becoming too complicated or wordy. Even in scientific writing, too much use of passive voice can cloud the meaning of your sentences.” This simply means that every time you write, there is a distinct purpose and audience, and every sentence’s structure should be considered in the composition process. After some practice, verb use and subject-object placement becomes essential to establishing the desired message.
My advice? Always consider the forum. Are you writing news? Narrative? A report? Certain genres require certain styles of writing, and whenever you go to write something you haven’t before, make sure you look at examples and seek out writing guides.
Ethos was originally defined by Aristotle in On Rhetoric as being trustworthy. He stated that we are more likely to believe people who have good character. Aristotle later broadened this definition of ethos to add that we are more likely to be persuaded by someone who is similar to us, whether by their intrinsic characteristics (e.g. physical age) or the qualities they adapt (e.g. youthful language).
Aristotle does not include the concept of either a speaker’s authority or reputation in his definition of ethos, but this reflects the rather narrow role for public speaking in his world. In our world, where speaking takes so many forms and where we often know a great deal about the speaker, we will include both of these elements in our definition of ethos.
So, then, we will measure the ethos of a speaker by four related characteristics:
- Trustworthiness (as perceived by the audience)
- Similarity (to the audience)
- Authority (relative to the audience)
- Reputation or Expertise(relative to the topic)
1. Ethos = Trustworthiness
An audience is more likely to be persuaded by someone who they trust, and this is largely independent of the topic being presented. If the audience trusts you, then they expect that what you are telling them is true.
“If the audience trusts you, then they expect that what you are telling them is true.”
Your trustworthiness is enhanced if the audience believes you have a strong moral character. Additionally, your audience tends to trust you if you are a member of a group with which these qualities are often associated (e.g. a pastor; a firefighter).
2. Ethos = Similarity to the Audience
Your audience is more receptive to being persuaded by someone with whom they can identify. Like trustworthiness, this aspect of ethos is largely independent of the topic.
If you share characteristics with your audience, great!
If you don’t, you can adapt your language, your mannerisms, your dress, your visuals, and your overall style to match your audience. Consider this the chameleon effect. Keep in mind that there are limitations to how much you can adapt your speech and delivery. Beyond this limit, your audience will see you as lacking authenticity and that’s bad.
“If you are similar to your audience, then your audience will be more receptive to your ideas in the same way that you are more likely to open a door at night if you recognize the voice of the person on the other side.”
If you are similar to your audience, then your audience will be more receptive to your ideas in the same way that you are more likely to open a door at night if you recognize the voice of the person on the other side.
3. Ethos = Authority
The greater a person’s authority, whether formal (e.g. an elected official) or moral (e.g. the Dalai Lama), the more likely an audience is inclined to listen and be persuaded.
Authority comes from the relationship between the speaker and the audience and is, in most cases, fairly easy to recognize. In addition to these, every speaker has authority just from being the speaker. When you speak, you are the one at the front of the room, often on an elevated platform, sometimes with a microphone or spotlight. You control the moment and thus, have temporary authority.
4. Ethos = Reputation (or Expertise)
Expertise is what you know about your topic.
Reputation is what your audience knows about what you know about your topic.
Your ethos is influenced by your reputation. Of the four characteristics of ethos, reputation is the one most connected to the topic of your presentation.
“Expertise is what you know about your topic.
Reputation is what your audience knows about what you know about your topic.”
How do these characteristics combine?
Ethos cannot be assessed with a checkbox (“yes, you have ethos” or “no, you don’t.”) like you can with, say, pregnancy. It’s more like beauty in the sense that there’s a whole range of beauty and many ways to obtain it. (And, it’s in the eye of the beholder… your audience!)
If you have high ethos, your audience is listening and attentive from your first word. They expect that you have something valuable to say, and they are eager to hear it. They are likely to be persuaded by you, provided that your speech is compelling. A bad speech will still sink you, but you’ll have more leeway.
If you have low ethos, your audience may not be listening or paying attention. (In fact, they may not even show up! Poor ethos doesn’t attract a crowd.) Expectations are low, and a poor opening will kill you. Your audience can be persuaded, but your speech needs to be much better to do it
Let’s talk about the power of gossip. No, seriously. I was thinking about this the other day in reaction to a discussion I had in my Digital Rhetoric class (for those of you who are baffled by this class’s title, it’s a class about how to write for online spaces). The question that was raised had to do with this illustrious sense of entitlement on the part of users, especially in “anonymous” circumstances.
We talked about the phenomenon that exists currently where individuals who know their identity is unknown often abuse their Internet privileges by interacting in offensive or inappropriate ways. For example, often individuals will post comments on widely-read media sites and because they feel comfortable in their anonymity, they will express their thoughts in ways that are insulting, degrading, and offensive, and they do so in often short-sighted, prejudiced, completely one-sided manners. All of this is well-and-good considering our attachment to semi-ascertainable 1st Amendment Rights lent us; however, it seems that this “privilege” is being blurred with “right” and people have chosen to capitalize on the opportunity to engage a democratic forum.
An example of this sort of misbehavior? For instance, a person posts embarrassing information or images on your Facebook page. Or someone posts derogatory remarks on an editorial piece. Or someone leaves tasteless remarks on a blog post that was written. Most likely you’ve seen this phenomenon, or even have been victim to someone’s internet alter-egos. All of these are examples of the freedoms warranted by a democratically engaged backdrop; however, the behaviors would not be as easily discernible if the individuals were visible. The cloak of anonymity granted internet users is often misconstrued as a sort of power that some individuals see as their right to express. Because no one can see them, these individuals will involve themselves in online spaces in ways that they likely would not in other, more visible circumstances.
Perhaps anonymity isn’t the only reason. Perhaps some users simply enjoy the vantage point of web-spaces simply because the virtual world suggests unlimited freedoms? No matter the reason, the message that this behavior sends society tells us that the internet makes interaction much more instantaneous, and, therefore, easily abused. Writing words on a page would be taken much more deeply to heart were there immediate consequences for abuses: however, since this is not the case, we must take it upon ourselves to generate an acceptable code of ethics when engaged in online forums. If we want to establish our ethos and uphold it, we must consider that all writing is behavior, and thus all writing has “rights” and “wrongs”.
I asked some peers to give me some ideas about writing issues that represent their most aggravating pet peeves, and the first five responses all had to do with word confusion. Someone asked me to address the difference between lose and loose (“You can’t ‘loose’ your car keys for Pete’s sake!”). Another vented about principle/principal and complement/compliment, and so on. In my own experience, I have observed a great deal of confusion over they’re/their/there, you’re/your, weather/whether and many others. These are very commonly confused words, and people with college degrees and even with teaching jobs sometimes get them wrong.
First, let me say that we have the illustriously complex and convoluted rule system of the English language to thank for providing us such easily confusable terminologies. But the bottom line is that we often stop reviewing these concepts at higher levels of learning because the skill seems quite elementary when viewed from a grammatical perspective. What we need to do is lay out the issue by defining our terms.
HOMONYM: One of two or more words having the same sound and often the same spelling but different meanings. HOMOPHONE: One of two or more words pronounced the same but different in meaning, origin, and sometimes. HOMOGRAPH: One of two or more words spelled alike but different in origin, meaning, and sometimes pronunciation. HETERONYM: One of two or more words that are spelled the same but that differ in pronunciation and meaning. (http://www.editingandwritingservices.com/homonyms.html)
It’s an everyday skill in communication, but you probably don’t know it. Each day, we interact with many different individuals, and we do so on multiple forums, with varying means. For every person you address, you adjust your tone, diction and verbal attitude to fit the appropriate recipient. For instance, at work, you might speak with a fellow co-worker using slang or vernacular common to both of your speaking habits. But when the boss walks your way, you change your demeanor, you change your tone, and you use different words to reflect the degree of formal respect for a person in a position of authority. This intuitive action — the shifting of your conversational mode — is called code-switching.
Linguistically speaking, code-switching has to do with intermixing different language capacities to communicate. It is one’s use of more than one language in conversation. For those who speak multiple languages, code-switching means having the ability to, when prompted, change language variety to suit communication. But for everyday purposes, code-switching is the act of matching language with the person with whom you are speaking. Now, more than ever, it’s a noteworthy skill to be able to adjust your words to suit your audience. Being able to switch from formal to casual language in the appropriate circumstances means that you are a conscientious individual who thinks before you speak.
So, let’s address this concept as it applies to everyday writing. We’re on our computers a lot these days. We constantly write text messages, chat messages, emails, posts, blog posts and updates, and what we don’t always realize is that all of these messages send a message about the type of writer you are. I notice every single day an example of inappropriate language applied in very public forums. Sure, Facebook is a place where we can interact with our friends and family, but we must remember that employers will peruse pages to see what sorts of activities and communications we engage regularly. If a person happens to be a socialite who posts lots of pictures and captions, she must be aware that the pictures and words combine to create her overall image. That can be good or bad, and I’m sure we have all been made aware just by participating.
Maybe you don’t think about it, but being careful to be “correct” in your writing is a means of code-switching. Most people these days write the way they speak, but what they don’t know is that the way they speak is often incorrect. Even highly educated speakers err when communicating. No, I’m not suggesting that we all become language gurus. I’m simply offering the tip that when you think about the words you speak or write, and the way you deliver them, you will gain respect as a competent communicator, which can only help you in the long run.
Here are some tips for online writing and choosing a more formal code:
- check your punctuation and spelling
- capitalize where necessary
- choose words carefully and make sure the word you’re using is the right one for the occasion
- if you use slang, make sure you use quotation marks
- consider your audience and have consideration for what their reactions may be
Any other pointers to add? Please leave comments!
It’s true. I’m a teacher. But I am not the strict, slap-your-hand-with-a-ruler type when it comes to the English language. What I do hope to accomplish is help to generate discussion regarding best methods available to modern writers. This also means taking into consideration the materials and means that aid writers in their craft, especially in the digital age.
It is worth noting here that I take a practical and pragmatic approach to writing instruction. I am less interested in technical applications than the execution of ideas; however, I feel that an individual may build ethos (reputation) by learning the most widely accepted and recognized rules. Because we engage in dialogue and participate in media-supported social interactions every day, it becomes more and more pertinent to demonstrate precision. One badly misspelled, mis-punctuated, or poorly written email can change others’ views of your capacity for communication. Since writing is everyday reality, we must all be conscientiously dedicated to “writing right”.
So this website is a practical applications page. I will draw from suggestions, questions, dialogues and observations and work to create coherent, usable tips and pointers to help individuals enhance their skills. I welcome feedback and interaction to continue the ongoing conversation that helps to hone writing craft.
I’m not going for formalism here; in fact, what I hope is that this page will be light-hearted, humorous and helpful all at the same time. Punishment over language does nothing but create stigma, and a stigmatized writer never finds a distinct voice. So I will wield no red pens (nor did I ever as a teacher — I always used pink, blue, green or purple), and I will conduct my own editorial approach to the widely varying topics that outline the task of writing.
I am excited about this adventure, and I look forward to our discussions to come!