Punctuation and Grammar for our Target Audience
My sister is older and smarter than me.
I know. How is that possible?
But it is pretty simple. She worked her butt off at school. Day and night, she diligently studied to achieve Dux of our secondary school. Now she works in a professional world that is foreign to me. She has Bachelor Degrees in Commerce and Economics, became a Chartered Accountant and has just recently received her MBA (Masters of Business Administration).
Despite this esteemed pedigree, when she writes to me via text message and social media she is incredibly slack with language, she is humorous and occasionally makes inappropriate comments. She adapts her language for her target audience.
In our messages, we are able to flaunt traditional conventions of punctuation and grammar, as we know each other well and can read our tone of voice in our laid-back vernacular. We also limit the use of punctuation and grammar to maintain the pace of the messaging, we can communicate quickly before returning to the ‘real’ world.
This sounds familiar because we all do this. This is common behaviour.
This week I had this little situation with my sister via text message and it got me thinking. To be honest, I’m still nutting this idea out. I haven’t got it all sorted yet, but this theory may change my approach to student writing.
I don’t want you to get too excited, but it is AMAZING.
However, I don’t want you to think that I’m going to receive a Nobel Prize for this realisation. Because I think you need to be old to receive that anyway and I’m only 21 to 38-ish years of age. True story.
Anyway, back to the situation with my sister. I was messaging her about hosting her baby shower. As we were nearing the end of our message we stumbled across a miscommunication. Here is the chat below. Be aware of grammar and punctuation errors.
Okay. There are obviously a few errors in that discussion, but this is where my mind-blowing discovery comes from.
My sister begins the exchange with ‘OK.’ Simple, innocent and straight to the point. However, this has accidentally changed her tone because she overlooked her target audience (me). She has gone back into professional mode and suddenly utilised punctuation in what was a free and loose chat. To me, her target audience, I now view this full stop in a different light.
It has a different context to what should have been a simple sign off. I fear I may have upset her. So, the messaging continues with this as the driver. She responds with another full stop in her reply and this is where the discussion extends to explore what full stops, capital letters and exclamation marks can actually mean in simple text messaging.
Okay, it’s getting boring now. I hear you ANGRILY YELL (or Angrily Yell.) - WHAT WAS MY EPIPHANY?
My epiphany was this:
Our students bring informal messaging (limited focus on grammar and punctuation) to high stakes writing tasks at school.
They consistently use informal language and forget to consider their target audience.
Everything written has a target audience and no, it’s not just the teacher. In English when students write a Text Response their target audience is not the teacher. It is someone who has shown interest in the text, someone who has read or viewed the text before and now wants to hear different opinions and ideas on the themes and conventions. They want enlightenment from the text.
A Community Design Brief has a target audience. The brief must be accurate to reflect what is appropriate for the community, families, children and Local Council. A School Policy must be worded correctly for School Council. Homework tasks must be worded so students and parents understand what is required. Women’s Day must carefully word their blatantly dishonest celebrity gossip columns. The power of the written word cannot be underestimated. We MUST get the details clear for our target audience.
I know you’re thinking this is not new information. This is pretty basic.
And you’re right, it is.
However, the epiphany helped me develop a stronger appreciation for our students.
They are bilingual x 10. They have the ability to write to multiple target audiences via social media.
They make concerted efforts and may focus a little bit on punctuation and grammar in messages to Mum and Dad.
They may even step it up a bit more for Grandma and Grandpa.
But for their friends they use language and grammar that suits their usual tone and pace. For their siblings their tone might completely change again; punctuation and grammar may be relied on more or less. It depends. Our students are aware of their target audience even though the term may have not entered their vernacular yet.
As a teacher, I am going to focus on this a little more in class. I should ask students to write their thoughts about this issue as if they were writing it to their BFF, then write it again to Grandma, then write it again but this time it’s to Mum’s Boss . . .
You can do this at home and challenge word choices thrown around the kitchen while making dinner. While writing the note to the PE teacher about the missing school uniform. You may ask your child to do it and consider their language and grammar for their target audience.
Informal social media language is perfectly acceptable, but students need guidance to understand target audience in low stakes and high stakes writing tasks. We all play a role in this contemporary obstacle our students face.
Literacy Learning Specialist