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Originally published Friday, April 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Chat slang creeps into teens' assignments

It's nothing to LOL about: Despite best efforts to keep school writing assignments formal, two-thirds of teens acknowledge in a survey that...

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — It's nothing to LOL about: Despite best efforts to keep school writing assignments formal, two-thirds of teens acknowledge in a survey that emoticons and other informal styles have crept in.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project, in a study released Thursday, also found that teens who keep blogs or use social-networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace have a greater tendency to slip nonstandard elements into assignments.

The results may give parents, teachers and others a big :( — a frown to the rest of us — though the study's authors see hope.

"It's a teachable moment," said Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at Pew. "If you find that in a child's or student's writing, that's an opportunity to address the differences between formal and informal writing. They learn to make the distinction ... just as they learn not to use slang terms in formal writing."

Half of the teens surveyed say they sometimes fail to use proper capitalization and punctuation in assignments, while 38 percent have carried over the shortcuts typical in instant messaging or e-mail messages, such as "LOL" for "laughing out loud."

The telephone-based survey of 700 U.S. residents ages 12 to 17 and their parents was co-sponsored by the National Commission on Writing at the College Board, the nonprofit group that administers placement tests.

The chairman of the commission's advisory board, Richard Sterling, said the rules could possibly change completely within a generation or two: Perhaps the start of sentences would no longer need capitalization, the way the use of commas has decreased over the past few decades. "Language changes," Sterling said.

Defying conventional wisdom, the study also found that the generation born digital is shunning computer use for most assignments. About two-thirds of teens say they typically do their school writing by hand. And for personal writing outside school, longhand is even more popular.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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