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The Power of the Written Word Online

     My 12-year-old son asked me the other day why he had to learn to write well.  He wasn't asking out of curiosity.  It was more of a rhetorical question because he didn't want to do his English Language Arts writing assignment.  I was trying to encourage him to expand his vocabulary through further reading and writing.  He claims that his generation speaks in "text terms" and don't have to learn to write full words and sentences.  Thus, the challenge of educators and parents in this new age of rapid-fire information exchange and social media.
     Since writing interactively on social media is a major part of teens and tweens' lives and that of adults as well, writing effectively is even more important.  With all the shortcuts and abbreviations used in writing online, making sure the written message has clarity and appropriate tone is essential.  Understanding what a person is trying to say in written form loses some of its luster.  Unless you're a skilled writer, there's no better communication method than in person.  Social media requires lots of writing--more writing than most of us adults did in high school.  It doesn't, however, require much oversight, correction or accountability.  Therefore, people make a lot of mistakes in their written communications and that can lead to misunderstandings.  Here are a few:
  • Not proofreading what you've written is the biggest pitfall.  Take a minute to review what you've written before you post.  And really, it only takes a minute if not mere seconds.  That small amount of time could save you big headaches later on.  The comment you meant as a joke may come across sarcastic or mean if you use the wrong words or don't put enough context around it. You could tick off some folks and not know why until it's too late. 
  • Still using all caps to speak to us.  FOR THE HUNDREDTH TIME, ALL CAPS SUGGEST SHOUTING!!!  Lower your voice.  Turn off the CAPS LOCK button.  Your message will come across just as strong if it's written clearly.
  • Though social media is designed for brief comments and mostly visuals, even short entries must be accurate entries.  Misspelled words, incomplete sentences--sometimes they just don't make sense. 
  • Keep what's personal to yourself.  That's why it's called "personal".  It applies primarily to you and shouldn't be shared with the rest of the world.  
  • Realize that you might like crass jokes, vile language, nudity and violence (i.e. brutal street fights) but not everyone does.  You invited yourself into someone else's world when you "friended", "linked up" or "followed" them online.  They accepted you.  As a result, you have a responsibility to them if you are going to socialize in their world.  Much like if you were standing in front of them and wouldn't say and share those things, don't do it online either.
  • Elevate your minds.  Abandon  Yeah, I said it.
  • Don't argue online.  If you have beef with someone, keep it between the two of you.  Letting the rest of the world in on your battles only serves to fan the flames.  Your online drama only serves as fodder for gossipers, instigators, and people who don't otherwise have a life.  Maintain some class.
     Remember this:  what you put online says a lot about you.  People determine who you are based on what you post.  Watching a thread of communication offered by you shows a pattern in your life.  It exposes your character.  With that said, always put the best of you out in the open.  Learn to be discreet when necessary and open when appropriate.  You never know who's watching or reading.  And realize the power is in the written word (or your keyboard).  Write responsibly.

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