Who says today’s college students can’t write? With texting, messaging, chatting, blogging, and social media updating, you write all day and half the night. What you need is a handy text-to-English translation guide, so here you go:

Portrait of a college students reading text message on mobile while standing in a row, copyright PixDeluxe iStock_000014390567
Photo copyright PixDeluxe, iStockPhoto #000014390567

Tech Tricks

1)    Type or paste your text into Microsoft Word. (Save it. Save frequently.)

2)    Use AutoCorrect (Tools tab, then AutoCorrect) so your sentences automatically begin with capital letters, and every lower case i will be magically turned to I.

3)    If you’re already a capitalizer (no, I won’t be adding that coinage to my Spell Check dictionary), and you type so quickly your shift key catches the first two letters whenever you capitalize (that would be me), AutoCorrect will reduce that second letter to lowercase.

4)    AutoCorrect will also correct many common typos—you would have to undo its work to misspell the—and you can add your own most common typing errors.

5)    Use Spell Check. Be sure Spell-Check-as-you-type is turned on. (Tools tab, Spelling & Grammar, Options). Yes, those red squiggly lines mean the highlighted words are not in your standard dictionary. If you use a proper name or a technical word from your field and you can prove you’re spelling it correctly, go ahead and use Add so you don’t have to keep approving it. When in doubt, do not Add.

6)    Avoid Grammar Check. If you are a fluent speaker of Standard Broadcast English, you’re well-read, and you know the rules, you may use it to catch typos like missing words, subject-verb agreement errors, and unintentional sentence fragments—but always remember that Grammar Check is frequently wrong, sometimes hilariously so. If you are not a native English speaker, or you speak primarily a regional or ethnic dialect, do not trust it. For all of you, get a second, more literate opinion whenever you and Grammar Check disagree.

Relationships Matter

7)    Marry an English major.

8)    At least be excellent to your most literate friends. In real life, you will ask others to proofread important documents before you embarrass your company. The same goes for school. In my class, peer editing is not cheating; it’s the law.

9)    Ask your instructor. The best time would be several days before the assignment is due, and when possible, during the same class meeting when it is assigned.

10) Ask me. I won’t do your homework for you, but if you have general questions other people must be asking, try me.

Do Your Homework

11) Writing is an open book test. Learn how to consult a handbook or style guide.

12) Study those rules and traditions. There’s no shortcut here, though I’ll do my best help. Apply the same enthusiasm with which you learned texting abbreviations.

13) Create a Word document for your most common Questions and Errors. Whenever you learn a correct spelling, a new grammar or punctuation rule, or a new way to approach editing and revision, record it in your own FAQ list.

14) Read. How do you think your highly literate friends learned to write a graceful sentence? How do they know where the commas go? Surprise: there was no “English 354 Punctuation Correction” class. Many of us took editing classes, where it was already assumed we had those basics down. So read great prose. Pay attention to the arrangements of words, the details of punctuation, and how much they matter to the meaning. Whenever you trip over someone else’s sentence, see if you can figure out what went wrong. Is it ambiguous syntax, a missing punctuation mark, a missing word?

15) If I’m the one who wrote a confusing sentence, please let me know. This is a peer editing project itself; I rely on you to let me know whether the ideas in my head make it to the page. (I especially love to know when I get it right.)

Text Your Way to Success

16) Start homework early by texting a note to yourself. You’ll have a record of the instructions, you’ll notice any confusion before you leave class, and your subconscious will begin gathering ideas and energy for the project.

17) Connect with classmates to support each other.

18) Comment here with your funniest errors. Even English teachers love ROFL.

19) You have a built-in cliché detector. If there’s an abbreviation for a phrase, you know it’s outdated. For written English, omit those expressions or substitute original and creative versions.

20) Teach an older adult your tech skills. It’s one more thing we love about you.

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2010