Sunday, May 8, 2011

Does Twitter Make Better Writers?

As anyone who reads my blog already understands, I'm in a long-term love relationship with words. So I tend to be a bit self-indulgent and verbose. I struggle daily with my ongoing weaknesses in that regard. As a mind-worker and wordsmith by trade, I even confess to an affection for semi-colons and proper grammar. Old school? Perhaps, but as I tell my daughters: If you know how to write clearly and compellingly you'll never want for a job.

A Twitter power-user (@DonCarlitos), I'm struck with the potential the micro-blogging service has for improving writing skills in general. Twitter requires users to cram meaning into 140 characters. A good thing, and a lesson in concise language and brevity. 

In 1918, William Strunk, a Cornell University English professor, wrote "The Elements of Style." It has become the definitive book on clear and concise writing, used by schools at all levels especially university journalism programs. In 1959, New Yorker Magazine writer E.B. White - a former student of Strunk's - was asked to update "The Little Book" by publishers Macmillian and Company. According to Wikipedia, "Since 1959 the total sales of three editions of the book, in four decades, exceeded ten million copies."  In the book, Strunk provides a number of rules for writers. The most important, by general consensus, being: "Omit needless words."

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. Twitter enforces brevity, and rewards the concise.  It makes us "omit needless words." In doing so, the popular social networking tool makes an important, new contribution to producing good writers. Now I'm the first to admit that creative contractions, numbers substituted for words, and too many acronyms are also hallmarks of Twitter. But I chose to overlook those and focus on Twitter's positive contributions to written language. Let me know in the comment section if you agree. (Good Writer's Tip Sheet).

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