by Al King
We all have our own way of speaking, and sometimes what we say may not be grammatically correct. The use of jargon or “slang” when speaking has become second nature to all of us. When using slang while speaking, we’re very aware of our audience—we know with who and when to use it. This is the same as writing with slang—you know when to use it and when not to. Remember, just because you know what it means does not mean that everyone else knows as well.
Taking what you say and putting it on paper is a skill that requires a lot of practice and critical thinking. For example, if you’re having a conversation with a friend and he asks you a question and you respond with “na man, I’m [straight/cool/good],” you can’t just write it down on paper like that. This is very informal, and informal writing is often grammatically incorrect. Instead of writing “na man, I’m cool,” you could write “no, that’s okay/alright,” or something along those lines.
We see this all over the place, and for us sport-minded people, there are many analysts or “experts” who speak much differently than they write. A good example of this would be ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who is a co-host of “First Take,” a frequent guest to “Sportscenter,” and hosts his own weekday radio show for ESPN New York 98.7. Along with all of that, he is also a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Most, if not all, of us have seen him in one way or another on ESPN. Smith brings a flamboyant, high-energy personality to the screen and radio studio. But when you read some of his work for ESPNNewYork you may wonder if this is still the same person.
Take a look at the video of Smith speaking below, and then click here or here for two examples of written articles. His style of speaking is very different from his style of writing. What differences do you notice?
When it comes to writing, the best advice that anyone can give, and that Smith would likely attest to, is to say everything out loud and slow down. Did it sound right? If not, then find a better way to say it. Don’t be afraid to write it down and reread it to yourself out loud to see if it works. Both of these steps help out a lot when it comes to appropriate language.
Another piece of advice I could give is stay away from writing like you are talking to someone; instead, work on clearly and intelligently getting your point across. Remember that when you are writing college level essays or papers, you are not writing for your friends or other students but professors who have a higher standard for you, for me, and for all of us.
Of course, if you’re still having trouble working on your academic tone and language, you can always bring your paper to the Writing Center! We’ll read your writing with you, and we can talk about other ways to revise for tone.
I hope this advice was helpful and can be used by you going forward. Good luck and happy writing!