Is The Internet Making You A Bad Writer? Study Suggests Digital Content Could Affect Your Writing

What is the Internet doing to your brain? Turns out, reading things online might be making you a worse writer, at least according to one new study. Which probably doesn't say anything good about the quality of online writing. I'll try not be insulted.

In a study published in the International Journal of Business Administration , researchers looked at writing samples from MBA students at the University of Florida and gathered information about their reading habits in order to see if writing quality was influenced by reading material. For writing samples, the researchers used cover letters the participants submitted to jobs — after all, if there's ever a time you're trying to do your best work it should be when looking for a job, right? — and analyzed them using computer software that assesses "syntactic complexity."

They found that students who read mostly online content — particularly "amateur-provided content" from sites such as Reddit, Tumblr, Buzzfeed, or Huffington Post — showed far less sophistication in their writing. Students whose writing showed the most complexity were those who reported reading academic journals, literary fiction, or general nonfiction. And interestingly, there was no noticeable effect based on how much a person read; whether you're reading all the time or hardly at all, the biggest effect seems to be from what type of material you're reading.

Basically, it's not quantity; it's quality.

These results do make a certain amount of sense — much of humans' linguistic ability is about mimicking in order to facilitate communication, after all, so it's only sensible to think that what you read then impacts how you write. However, I'm not completely sold that this study means the Internet and "amateur-produced content" is inherently bad for your writing skills.

For one thing, cover letters are perhaps not the best example of our general writing skills. Personally, I hate writing cover letters, and composing them always feels awkward since it's not the sort of thing I normally write. Cover letters also require specific linguistic skills, like incorporating language from a job posting into the text, which not everyone is practiced at.

Basically, it's not clear how representative cover letters are to our general writing skills.

Still, I'd be surprised if the Internet wasn't having an effect on the way millennials write — if nothing else, the Internet means we probably read a lot more than people used to, now that there's basically a never-ending font of reading material in our pockets. But if you want to make sure your own writing skills aren't slipping, it's probably a good idea to make sure you're not just reading Wikipedia or Tumblr all the time — books (in any format) really are your friend.

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