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Science Proves Reading the Web Makes You a Bad Writer

Yet another piece of research that’s supposed to show that the internet is making us dumb. Or something like that.

recent study in the International Journal of Business Administration looked at MBA students at the University of Florida to determine how reading habits shape writing ability. Scientists analyzed writing samples from student cover letters, which were believed to be the most telling form of a student’s best writing – no one wants to make a bad impression on a cover letter – to determine complexity and style.

The study found students who consume primarily digital content (such as Reddit and Buzzfeed) had the lowest writing complexity scores, while those who often read literature and academic journals had the highest levels of writing complexity.

I haven’t read the actual study (why bother when websites like this one will summarize everything I need to know into a short, clickbait headline?), but I wonder if the researchers are really claiming a direct connection between reading mostly digital material and lower writing skills.

Or could it be that the content in this situation is more important than the format? That people who read more complex content learn to create more complex writing?

But then I’ve never been much of an academic so I could be wrong.


  1. James

    Errr… So writing in a complex style is “better writing”? I think not. Wilful obscurantism won’t get you the job.

  2. tim

    James: The Salon piece has a headline that equates reading online materials with making people dumb so, yeah, it’s not a big leap from that to matching complex writing style with “better”.

    However, my take is that the issues of how well a person writes are far more complex all the way around, and probably has more to do with the content they read than the format in which it’s packaged.

  3. Dominic Giegerich

    You summary is crap because it doesn’t define what “reading the web” means. Yes, if you just read those tidbit, chuck of the day stuff ONLY, I can imagine your writing would suffer. What if you read both? Did the study say anything about…oh, that’s right, you didn’t read the study.

    It’s not the internet…it’s us.

    • tim

      Dominic: I’m pretty sure you won’t, but please excuse my snark. :-)

      However poorly I said it, I think we agree that “It’s not the internet… it’s us.” My point in the post was that I believe the quality of a person’s writing has more to do with what they read and less with where they read it. The summary of the study implied just the opposite.

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