Formal vs Informal blogging and messages

Over the years of my education, my writing was slowly shaped into what people regard as ‘academic’ in structure—complete sentences with no breaks or pauses or parentheses (or gods forbid run-on sentences), no referral to the first person, no value judgements if they could be avoided, etc. Ultimately attempting to stick to this writing can become highly formal, almost stilted. Yet, it’s considered the height of education, politics, religion, and speech to be able to straitjacket oneself like this. It feels like language dressed up in an expensive suit, and granted, some amount of shifting can be expected, just as one can’t show up to a ballroom dance in jeans and a t-shirt.

People, however, don’t talk like that all the time. If you want recitation and ritual, then perhaps your local religious institution might be the best place :). Blogging actually became of great interest to me because of its flexibility. I enjoy being able to express not only my logical and intellectual self but my emotional approach to matters as well, and so the various journal entries I’ve previously written range from short epigram-like bits to pages-long meanderings.

The “Academic Literacy” piece in the Handbook of College Reading actually hit an interesting note with me around page 32, where the authors discuss the differences between American and French students vis-a-vis—now that’s a nice stilted word/phrase—the viewing of ‘Le Haine’. American students used expressive language and punctuation (like ‘?’ and ‘!’), emotionally invested, to engage with other students and the subject on an personal as well as intellectual level. Meanwhile, French students’ blogging and journaling was a cooler, more intellectually-directed discourse on “dispassionate presentations of “truth.””. It was only in their instant messaging that they appeared to be able to personalize their communication directly with one another as individuals rather than communities or discursive groups.

Pawan and Honeyford don’t try to explain directly why there are these vast differences between the two types of discourse (and nor does their referent, Thorne), although James Gee’s “What is Literacy?” does go into some detail about how discourse groups form in ways that seem to reinforce a confirmation bias or an us-vs-them mentality (and animals, especially people, love their groups, yeh?). They didn’t make any value judgements on whether one type was better than the other—the American students’ discourse converted to the more informal format, while the French students merely extended their formal, structured dialogue to include computer mediated communication.

Given that so much of academe is already rigidly formalized, even stultified at times (I love that word, btw), I’m willing to go out on a limb, make a modest value judgement and say, “You know what? Why not allow for more informality?” The question for me, though, is why the American students (and perhaps the rest of us ‘Merican college students, by extension) do approach blogging and forums in the more informal emotive manner as opposed to continuing the more strait-laced formal approach like the French students.

Are they/we doing so as a mild backlash against that formalized discourse? When the Professor Cat’s away, the Student Mice will play?

Is it a much milder form of what Gabe and Tycho’s Penny Arcade comic calls “The Greater Internet ****wad Theory (http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19), basically allowing ourselves a measure of freer expression due to relative distance/anonymity?

Are we actively trying to prove that we can still get our point across without sounding like we’re reading a teleprompter, or just falling back on more natural communicative methods?

What is it exactly that we are doing as a difference, and why?

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2 responses to “Formal vs Informal blogging and messages

  1. My guess? The french culture has a more rigid mentality when it comes to authority- hence when a teacher assigns something (even if it is a blog or an email), les eleves francaisaes differ towards that authority instead of to the nature of the medium. In ‘Merica where independence and autonomy are more prized and woven into the cultural fabric, students have a tendency to embrace the nature of the forum before acknowledging the instructor’s formality.

    Just my quick- 15 second- observation.

  2. I also wonder if “blogging” is as popular in France as it is here in the US? Some students, (myself included), who have never written a blog before might feel uncomfortable writing in this style and having it “count” as academic writing. In general, I think the French are less likely to share all of their thoughts and ideas with the public, and therefore blogging might not be as popular. If so, the French students might simply be uncomfortable with doing something so new and different. Just a thought!

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