How not to write an author

Teachers – here is an email that came into my MySpace account on Sunday afternoon. I have not altered it one bit except to put quotations around it.

“hi my names courtney. and 1st i would like to say thanks so much for aprovin me. :] i have this english report and we had to pick an author to write about and i chose u. do u have anything interestin bout u that i could put in there any cool facts or anything. i really want my paper to be different. if u could message me back today that would be great thanks so much bye”

This is very typical of the email I get. Sadly. (edited to add: Courtney claims to be a high school freshman on her page.)

My inclination is to hit the delete key. My strong-worded “I won’t do your homework” policy is everywhere. With just the tiniest amount of effort, the student can find all kinds of information about me – like on my website.

And for the record – the use of “u” for “you” and the total disregard for capitalization and punctuation (fine for texting friends, but not fine in this context), not to mention the other grammar errors – make my teeth hurt.

What do you think about this? Am I being appallingly old-fashioned and cranky? If this were your student, how would you want me to respond? I am not looking to make Courtney feel stupid or ignorant, but I want to be the village auntie and tell her it is time to raise her standards.

Or I could just hit the delete key.

What do you think?

85 Replies to “How not to write an author”

  1. No you are not old or cranky. Besides all the things you mentioned, the “write back today” would send me over the edge. Sometimes I read these kind of messages days after they have been sent.

    On the other hand, it could be that this is the first time Courtney has written to an author and she is just trying to find her way. I think her teacher will take care of the punctuation issue. In the meantime, I would probably just send her a link to your website so she can do a little investigating on her own.

  2. Laurie, I feel the same exact way. It’s sad and disturbing how many kids (and adults) are completely unaware that using English properly is an essential skill. It’s become optional, and that’s not okay.

    Although it’s a national epidemic, I can only speak for the New York City public school system when I say that most kids graduate with extremely lacking reading and writing skills. It’s unacceptable that so many kids hate reading or have never even read a book. When I was a science teacher, several of my students told me that my book was the first one they’d ever read. Not only do my teeth hurt over that, but my heart hurts, too.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly regarding the grammar, “u,” and spelling. It’s unacceptable, and replying without mentioning it is doing her a disservice! The truth is, Courtney IS ignorant– not stupid– but unaware that when approaching someone for information/writing a letter/everyday life, “shortcuts” like that aren’t okay.
    Ugh. Sorry, your post just grated on me…

  4. my 2 cents…

    I’m going to school to be a teacher and I admit I am guilty of using “u” for “you” when I’m talking with friends online or even in my own LJ. I would never use that type of language in the professional world though. I do feel that if this student expected any sort of response from you, he/she should have proof read it at least. In my opinion, since you have stated in numerous spots that “you won’t do their homework,” I feel that responding to her your giving in and what are you going to do when the next not thought out request comes your way? Why did that one get a response and not this one?

  5. That’s such a hard one. I was an English teacher in my former life, but that was before texting. We saw a lot of Us and 2s in notes, but it didn’t carry over into most writing–the kids somehow knew the difference.

    I wonder if you wrote back that you’re not sure what she’s asking, but if she were to rewrite her post in standard English so that you could follow it, you’d be glad to help. You could jokingly blame it on being old and cranky–or the village auntie.

    I’m not entirely comfortable with what I just suggested, but I think from your place of relative celebrity/popularity, you’re in a unique place to offer constructive criticism in a way that might have some impact.

  6. My fear is that if you respond to this one, a floodgate will be opened. My strongest urge would be to delete.
    But this (mis)use of language is terrifying! What is to be done?

  7. I’m not a teacher, but what I’d let Courtney is that:

    1) You won’t do her homework for her (but link to your website)

    2) The way that she wrote to you was not appropriate because it was basically a professional communication. It’s sad but a lot of students now don’t know the difference between TXTing their friends and writing something to someone they don’t know.

    3) She was asking a favor, and to ask that you ‘message back today’ when you don’t even know her was also inappropriate.

    That being said, her message says that she chose to write about you, not that you were assigned to her as a topic, so she’s probably a fan and maybe even an aspiring (very young) writer herself. With a push in the right direction, maybe she’ll figure it out.

    Or maybe I’m being too optimistic…

    The message did make me cringe, and I often get annoyed at kids on Yahoo! answers for asking homework questions in that manner, but if no one ever lets them know it isn’t right in a supportive way, they won’t ever learn. If you don’t respond at all, she probably won’t have any idea why and will continue to write like in that manner.

    …Or maybe you could ask her for her English teacher’s email directly and let the teacher know just what happened. Perhaps it would trigger a long study on grammar and how to write a business letter! 😉

    1. Also…

      I know you’re v. busy and don’t have time to respond to every kid who messages you with things like this, but it might be a help to post something on the front of your Myspace page that says something like “If you’d like a response to a legitimate question that does not involve your homework, please send me a message using correct grammar and punctuation and I will get to it as soon as possible.”

      Or to just keep a form letter typed up on your laptop you can copy/paste in response to that kind of question. “Thank you for your interest, but I will not do your homework for you, nor do I respond to messages that are not written in a professional manner” or something like that. (This might just be my background in online customer service coming through, though!)

    2. I agree with this wholeheartedly.
      While I understand the urge to delete, what you have here is a wonderful teaching moment.

      If she’s got attitude in her next message, that’s when I’d hit “delete”.

    3. These seem like really great suggestions to me. 🙂

      I think just deleting the email is tantamount to saying, “Go bug someone else.” Maybe a form letter would be the way to go because it is detached but supportive.

  8. Perhaps she was trying to be “cool” communicating to a famous YA author with the text wording? I was pretty lame when I was fifteen, so I’d cut her some slack if I got an email like that. =)

  9. That’s just… dear Lord. Lazy, sloppy, shameful, unprofessional, embarassing, and downright stupid. I’d never try to use that sort of style with anyone, much less someone I respected such as an author.

    You might want to take the opportunity to encourage capitalization, the full and proper spelling of words, and punctuation, and point out that in the real world, people still expect proper communication.

    Sigh. She has to learn sometime.

  10. I vote for the Delete key. Like you said, the information is out there if she makes the tiniest bit of effort; if she can’t even be bothered to look up your website or Google your name, why should she expect you to give her extra help?

    Alas, I strongly suspect that her sloppy spelling is not just a reflection of the way she talks to her friends in chat, but indicates the approach she takes to her schoolwork in general. Heaven knows my IM messages to friends are full of typos and abbreviations and acronyms, but writing to someone I don’t know personally in that format — especially to make a request — is just Not Right.

  11. I would most certainly click the delete key. I hate it when people cheat the English language for convenience… and you’re right, it’s not your place to be doing her homework for her. She’s not doing any of the work herself. She wants her paper to be different? Good for her.

  12. That letter makes me crazy on so many levels!

    The grammar and spelling (lack thereof), the assumptions that you have nothing better to do in your life than write an IMMEDIATE answer to her query – when clearly she has left it to the last minute to write the paper. Not to mention the blatant ignoring of the “I will not do your homework for you” policy.

    Still, I wouldn’t just hit delete. At the very least, just send her the link to your web site, and tell her that she can get all the info you are willing to make public there.

    I’m not sure how to point out her butchery of the English language without sounding snarky. But I’m sure you make a better village auntie than I do 🙂

  13. I actually think this is amazingly cool; you’re in a position to totally change Courtney’s life as a writer.

    We’re constantly trying to teach kids that writing is communication and its metric is effectiveness. Courtney’s probably heard that a zillion times from her teachers… and here she is actually trying to communicate a message that is presumably of real importance to her. But her communication wasn’t effective — because it lacked research, used the wrong tone for the audience, and failed to respect the reader by checking mechanics. This might be the best writing lesson she’ll ever receive… especially coming from a total famous person rock star, also a writer.

    1. I agree with this response. Every time I’ve taught my students lessons on formal and informal writing they throw back in my face how many teachers and adults in their lives are fine communicating via email in that manner. In fact, one year when I taught such a lesson I had a student bring in an email thread they had been writing with a former coworker of mine – and even her writing was riddled with “u” and “2” and text message speak. Perhaps hearing it from someone she seems to admire would help change her method of writing.

  14. Seriously? Ugh. By the age of 14, someone should know better than to write like that in any forum except IM conversations with other 14 year olds. And truthfully, even that is a compromise.

  15. I’m a junior in high school, and I absolutely hate it when people type that way. Unfortunately it is quite acceptable in the world of teenage lingo, but highly irritating when one should be trying to sound at least moderately respectable and professional. However, despite her constant grammar and spelling mistakes as well as her complete disregard for punctuation, I still would say that your main argument against answering her is your policy on doing others’ homework. Hopefully her inability to sound like an intelligent young woman will improve with time.

  16. I would reply that there is a load of great stuff she can use and that it can be easily found on your website. Then I would recommend that she gets together with her English teacher for some pointers on how to write a letter of request in proper format.

  17. Eiiiiieeee! It burns!

    Seriously, though, this is a teachable moment. Go for it.

    More seriously, there’s an author whose blog I won’t read because she won’t capitalize.

    Even more seriously, I teach online classes, and I’m always stunned when college juniors and seniors (who are future teachers) submit work written like the email you received. I won’t read or grade it, but I’m still stunned.

  18. Although I would never write a letter like this and I think it was way too TXTy for its intended purpose, I will defend Courtney to a slight degree because she contacted you via MySpace. MySpace is a community that prides itself on its informal attitude. I mean, the owner/CEO/whatever-he-is, Tom, is sitting there in his photo wearing a t-shirt and looking over his shoulder!

    Even experts say that email has a more “relaxed” feel than a formal letter. If that is true, I would argue that MySpaace messages have an even more “relaxed” feel than email.

    That being said, I do take exception to Courtney’s terrible smiley face. I mean, it doesn’t have any nose and the boxiness of the smile reminds me more of a robot than a smile!

  19. I recently got my first “im using ur bk 4 a bk report. tell me something about ur bk pls thx.”

    I don’t know, either. I got another one the same week and I’ve focused on content by replying that if they ask something specific I can reply. I’ve yet to comment on the text message speak. I think that’s what it is…MySpace message are like text messages to them and it’s shorthand. When I get mail from teens in my regular email, there are a lot more complete sentences.

  20. No, you’re not.

    When she’s talking to her friends, or to people she has *seen* to type lyk dis, then that’s… well, I hesitate to say appropriate, but at least not evil.

    But when talking to somebody she doesn’t know, to ask for a favor? Incredibly disrespectful. Start with the more correct formal register first, then work your way down to meet the person you’re talking with. It’s not just for speech.

  21. No, you are not being old fashioned and cranky. I am a college sophomore and I would never ever use language like that when contacting an author with a question. I use the shortcuts in texts, iming and maybe even on my myspace/facebook page but never in that sort of context. Then again I felt cranky and old when I was fourteen and it annoyed me when other fourteen year olds would do that so maybe I am just old fashioned too.

    Do you usually reply to requests for information? You could direct her to your website or something but if you don’t normally do that then I wouldn’t respond.

  22. how not to write an author

    It’s a tough call. I, too, mourn the passing of grammatically correct writing and spelling (it’s not dead, but it just smells funny). I suspect Courtney was just being herself and that she hasn’t a clue that her email is in any way unacceptable. What is acceptable in email (and other avenues of correspondence) is, for all intents and purposes, anything.

    I don’t think I’d hit the delete key just yet. I’d save it and use it as an anecdotal moment when addressing audiences (particularly high school audiences) in your travels. It is sad to see language so unappreciated when it has the capacity to be so enthralling, yet it is a fact in the world in which we all live. Perhaps you have been given a chance to give this incident a new and wonderful direction.

    Steve Hargrove, Librarian, Baltimore County Public Library

  23. She needs to learn how to communicate properly, because if she does this when she is in college, she will get professors that will either smack her down or will hit delete.

    And god forbid she tries to enter the employment market sending out emails that way.

    As someone who has taught (college) students – and sadly – did receive emails much as above (despite having standards outlined in the syllabus) – I know how I would respond as a teacher. And that would be to tell her to rephrase the email as something that resembles english – then when she does, thank her for her interest – and point her to the information on your website.

    But sadly, as someone who is not her teacher; and is quite possibly someone she looks up to, the line is more difficult.

    I would hit delete.

    Seriously. And if she writes again, nicely say you couldn’t understand what she wanted and direct her to your website for further information.

    Then again, its late in the afternoon, and maybe I need more coffee…..

  24. I receive emails from some of my college students that resemble the letter you posted. I will answer the question asked, because I feel that is my duty as a professor, but also let them know that the style and tone of the email was inappropriate for a formal interaction. The follow-up emails are usually better. If you do decide to respond, perhaps a gentle chiding is in order.

  25. I think that part of the problem is that the internet doesn’t lend itself to ‘code switching’. The interface (is that the word?) looks the same no matter who you’re writing to, so you end up using the same language for everyone. Whereas back in the day, I’d write my best friend from camp on Wonder Woman stationary and use lots of exclamation points and smiley face stickers, but for my grandma I’d carefully hand write a contraction-less thank-you note on a piece of my mom’s stationary.

    1. I was thinking the exact same thing. I teach math, but if I ever get an English class, we will definitely cover this concept very early in the year. I wonder if, as a high school freshman, she just hasn’t encountered this idea in any of her classes.


    2. Heavens! “Code-switching?” That kinda talk smells like library school reference class. Next thing you know you’ll mention such things as “pearling” and “scaffolding.”

      I wrote to my friends on scratch-n-sniff Hello Kitty stationery.

  26. Hmmm…

    Yeah the grammar is bad. But I think I’d just try to have a form letter that responds to this request and I’d send it whenever I got time (and if I didn’t get it out, I wouldn’t sweat it.) You’ve got to be able to live your own life and not Courtney’s. (I actually think the notices that you won’t do the homework should not be necessary — it just makes sense that you can’t do that.) I think teachers should tell students to try to get their information from what’s available on the web and make that part of the challenge — to see what kind of RESEARCH they can do WITHOUT asking the author. Students would be surprised at what they can find out about a person without asking them! It’s a good skill. And as for you: I’m wondering why you need a Myspace page. I know they’re really popular with authors, but you’ve got a website and you probably have a way of contacting you through it. I know some authors who don’t even want to put their email address online ANYWHERE just so they don’t spend their lives responding to floods of emails. That seems a bit extreme, but I understand why they’d want to do it. Your books are so good and so popular that I know the kids will find you via your website.

    1. Why do I do this?

      As an author, I am socially-networked in three places: this LiveJournal, the MySpace, and Facebook. LiveJournal has the easiest interface so I compose my blog entries here, then export them to the MySpace and Facebook. I find that LiveJournal tends to be the blog of choice for teachers, avid readers (many of whom are writing themselves), and librarians.

      Very generally speaking, MySpace tends to attract middle- and high school students, and FaceBook is mostly college students and recent grads.

      The MySpace actually helps protect my true email box. I have erected massive barriers around that box, because when I didn’t have them, I was totally flooded and lost several time-critical business emails in the deluge of students asking me for my favorite color and all of the themes in my books (with examples, plz).

      I like the MySpace email because it has become a vital link for teen survivors of sexual assault and abuse, and readers who are feeling suicidal. Those are the readers I respond to immediately. The rest of my correspondents usually hear back from me within a couple of weeks.

      No, I don’t have time to do any of this. But I think it would be cheesy and disrespectful to stop.

      And I really love how the blog keeps me connected to the larger World of Books.

      We’re overhauling the website – maybe that will make it easier for kids to find the info they want.

      1. Re: Why do I do this?

        H, I’m not the original anonymous, but I thought that I would reply to your comment about changing your website. I went to your website after reading this entry earlier today and it was kind of hard to use. All the changing graphics were confusing. I was trying to find your myspace page so first I went to “links.” It was incorrect, so when I went back I had to wait for your ad about Twisted to fade away again. I got it the second time, but I think it’s better to have a simple website if you want people to find information on it. Whenever I go to your website I always get lost, regardless of which layout you’ve had.

        Just an input, no offense! I think it’s cute, just not very user-friendly.

  27. if i were writing a letter or e-mail to a well-known author, asking him or her to help me with some sort of assignment, i would want to make sure i used perfect grammar! i think that sort of writing is okay for some situations, like texting or quick e-mails and messages to friends. in this context, however, it’s totally inappropriate.

    and as i type this, i’m not capitalizing anything, ha! also, just because she is a high school freshmen does not excuse her poor grammar. i remember learning basic grammar in fourth grade!

  28. I don’t think you should blow her off, because she needs to know. Like the artic ice dropping into the sea, bits and pieces of things that should be held dear are being shaved off and discarded. I’m all for casual and informal if it doesn’t erase the the more intricate rituals that do have importance. I don’t think it matters what she takes away from your communication, I only think it matters that you hold a standard that you believe in. I doubt she’s just rude and lazy (although you never know), I would imagine that the title of ignorant fits about right. What a shame it would be for her to walk away from this thinking that you didn’t give her the time of day. In her ignorance, it will probably never occur to Courtney that your lack of response might be about her. My vote is to get snarky in a mentorly type of way and raise the bar. She might not get it, but you never know when someone will have that “ah ha” moment and jump up and reach for the damn thing.

    There are a zillion people out there (me included) who cherish the words that you put out into the world…she should know that her behavior makes us very cranky!!!!!

      1. Actually, that is an awesome idea! If she really is interested in doing a unique paper on you…here is her opportunity. I hope she sends you a copy of a really wonderful paper, finds redemption and gives her classmates something to ponder.

        1. THIS is an excellent idea! It gives her something unique to say about her chosen author AND it allows Laurie to offer some constructive feedback to the message writer. I love this!

      2. I dunno. I forsee three possible reactions to that tactic on Courtney’s part:

        1. Mortification and/or anger at being made an example of in public

        2. Scoffing at what she’s likely to perceive as a legion of crotchety grammar-Nazis

        3. An epiphany

        Call me a cynic, but it seems to me that the third option is both the most desirable and least likely.

  29. Well, I’m not a teacher, actually a junior in High School, but I think you should hit the delete key. Last year, if you sent an email like that to my English teacher she wouldn’t pay attention to it until you corrected it. She told us that you should never put a request in ‘im speech’, which I completely agree with. I think it probably would have been a different story if she had worded the request properly, but as she didn’t, delete away!

  30. Wow! A high school freshman should know better than to write to a professional author like that. I would have two years ago, believe me! Anyway, don’t dignify that with a response, please. Just send it to email purgatory or wherever these grammatical catastrophes go when people delete them.

  31. Yikes…

    I’m not a teacher, but simply reading that message would make me lunge for the delete key. My opinion (as a college student) is that students should take responsibility for their own work and do a little research. I’ve been to your website and there is a plethora of information available. It’s not hard to research, and makes the final grade more rewarding. But that’s me.

  32. And as a random afterthought, the title of this post isn’t by chance a “How to Talk to a Hunter” reference, is it? We read that piece and used it as an exercise in my Creative Writing class 🙂

  33. To Delete or Not To Delete


    I read your post and all of the comments. I work with a teen reading group (but not in a high school). If her teachers are any good, deleting the message will be a learning experience for her if she chooses to learn from this (and if she is doing an assignment for her teacher instead of for herself, she will not learn–so deleting the message doesn’t make that much difference).

    She is also coming into your house and asking you for a favor while being ignorant to the point of being disrespectful.

    I would delete this message in a New York second. If this seems too harsh, I would simply send her a link to both your web site and these comments (without a single word of explanation).

    Max says, “I would send back her original letter corrected and ask her to try again. She’s a freshman in high school and should know better. I HATE “u” for “you.”


  34. You could write a generic do-not-send-me-anything-with-poor-grammar-letter and send it everytime you recieve one of these. I might just delete it, though. But if Courtney’s e mail is particularly bad compared to the rest you recieve, in terms of grammar (and all I can hope is that it is) then you might be able to teach her and her classmates a lesson. She could write a paper about texting you using poor grammar. Frankly, I just don’t get why she would send something with such poor grammar to anyone. The request for you to e mail her back that day is ridiculous, and would make me hit delete.

  35. And now for something completely different…

    Let me preface by saying that I too cringe when I see this sort of thing, and I do see it a lot in the Writing Center where I have tutored for 4 years–but–the armchair linguist in me wonders if we aren’t in the middle of another big shift in the English language. Like the Great Vowel Shift, but more to do with written text than spoken, which would make sense anyway as since that time language has gone from being primarily spoken to (I would argue) primarily written, especially with the advent of the internet and texting and so on. And someday modern English will be read by high school freshmen much the way that Shakespeare is read now.

    Not that it makes what Courtney’s done any more appropriate, nor is it currently acceptable in any professional or even semi-professional context. Just a thought, one I’ve been mulling on for awhile.

  36. I teach college. I get communication similar to this (even on essays and papers!) from too many of my students (and too many would be 2 or 3, but it’s more than that). So given what my students turn in to me, I’d say this gal is a “high functioning” freshman.

    What are they teaching in high school these days? Fingerpainting?

    1. I’d just like to point out that despite emails like this, a good deal of high school students do have a decent grasp on grammar and the English language. I’m a senior in high school, and while I admit to occasionally throwing in some internet lingo such as “lol” or other acronyms in my emails, I would never have sent an email such as this to my friends even, let alone a published author. Even in middle school, I remember thinking that shorthand such as “u” and “kool” looked absolutely ridiculous, and most of my friends would agree. I would hate for you to think of this email as representative of a “high functioning” teenager. We have higher standards than that…

      1. Could you please come to my college and sign up for my classes? This post alone is better than half of the essay papers that my students turn in!! It’s so nice to find bright, articulate teenagers — and no surprise to me that they ready Laurie’s books!

  37. You are not alone. I read thank you letters from college students who receive scholarship grants that leave me sad and worried. In most cases, they HAVE to wrote the letters to continue getting their scholarships, but you couldn’t imagine how pathetic most of them are. They often start their letter with, “Hi. My name is Jane Doe, and I’m a sophomore at OCU.” This isn’t a conversation, folks. Your name goes on the signature line. Learn how to write a decent letter – with good grammar and good content. I think we need to grab every opportunity to teach.

  38. No, you’re not being “appallingly old-fashioned and cranky.” I myself am not a teacher; I am a freshman in high school. Many people, especially teens, type with disregard toward grammar, proper spelling and capitalization.
    I would hit the delete key…

  39. If this was my student I’d quit teaching. But I would let the person know their writing is really weak, and to work on that or others will think she is stupid. Doing nothing gets you nothing.

  40. This is appalling on so many different levels. First of all, how is it that Courtney has made it all the way to fifteen without some “gentle chiding” for this behavior? At fifteen years old, she should know the basics of professional communication. Not the whole shebang, but the basics.

    I’m wondering why in the world this girl needs you to provide her with the information she wants. She’s gone to the trouble of looking you up on myspace, adding you to her friends, and sending off a garbled message asking for help with her paper. My guess is that rather than looking for “cool facts,” what she really wants is to establish some sort of rapport with you. As someone she obviously admires, it might help her to get some sort of “lesson” from you on the matter. A kind, slightly stern email from you on the topic of professionalism would go a long way–perhaps more than a lesson in the classroom.

  41. Usually if I get an email like the one above, I ignore it. Unless I feel generous that day, then I try to give them the general idea (i.e. “draw every day and produce finished work, and you’ll figure it out”), and make sure the email is overtly polite and proper to show by example. If they write back with more questions, I usually don’t reply, hoping their teacher will explain things to them when their project is reviewed. Maybe that’s a little wishful thinking on my part…

    Recently I met up with an artist friend of mine who mentioned how much he dislikes the attitude of entitlement that a lot of the new generations seem to have. Things like “music should be free!”, as if they were entitled to it. The internet makes things so accessible, and everything is so instant. It’s hard to remember that real people are behind everything we see on our monitors. You see this in forum flame wars all the time.

  42. As so many have said before me, you are certainly not being old-fashioned or cranky. I’m nineteen and remember quite vividly being a freshmen. There is no excuse using that kind of grammar and spelling in any context (I don’t even do that when I’m texting, neither do my friends. It takes .2 seconds longer to add a ‘y’ and an ‘o’ to you. Seriously.) I know a lot of kids still do this, but especially when you’re contacting a writer, you really need to put a bit more thought in it.

    If you reply back to her, I would simply say everything you’ve said here. Your website is full of information that should help her. As for the grammar, sadly it’s probably something she’ll have to learn on her own.

    Maybe I’m old-fashioned. I just don’t get how it’s that much more difficult to type words out.

  43. I can’t stand it. I can tolerate it in texts, because I know limited characters and such is a hassle and nobody wants to send more texts than they have to. But in notes or emails or ESPECIALLY letters and homework, it just angers me to no end. And even if your friends are ok, when it comes to writing people like this, there are formal standards you should know to use.

    I would just thank her for the message and tell her you’re busy but she should check out your website for interesting facts. But that’s me.

  44. It’s not the poor spelling or TXTspeak that I see as the biggest problem here. The informality of MySpace may lead people to think this style is OK in a MySpace message.

    But however beautifully her communication was phrased, you still wouldn’t do her research for her, right? Let alone drop everything to do it immediately. That’s the bigger problem–the imposition. Asking for a favor without even seeing it as a favor.

    If I were as well-known as you, I think I might have a cut-and-paste stock answer ready for messages like this. Something like, “Thank you for your interest. I cannot reply personally to all requests for information about my life and work, but you can find that on my website . . .”

  45. Holy wow, 61 comments O.O. I think the way she would be doing it is fine if she’s talking to her friend or someone she knows, but when she’s messaging a complete stranger and it’s someone who she would want to regard in a professional manner, she’s being too casual.

  46. Hmmm…Sadly, I am not surprised by this. I completed my student teaching last year (8th and 9th graders). I teach English, and it’s not just “u” that they use incorrectly. These students don’t capitalize “i” either. It’s not just the teachers who are at fault (though they are to some degree, I will NOT deny that!) It’s the whole virtual world. I think that to her, you are just a buddy on Myspace, and she talks to her other buddies like that, I’m sure. I don’t know…It definitely bugs me. The whole world is becoming so desensitized to everything. As to whether or not to answer her…I really don’t know. I agree that it is a disservice to her not to let her know just how rude her message was, but if you do answer her, don’t tell her anything other than that unless it’s the URL to your website. If she wants to know something else about you, then she should learn to form polite and well thought out questions. You’re an author, not Wikipedia.

  47. I can only echo what the others have already said. I would go with the teachable moment and make a point, but that’s just me.

    I am a middle school teacher and I see this texting shorthand creeping into classwork to be turned in for a grade once in a while. Some kids seriously don’t know that this is not acceptable. Some do and just don’t care.

    What gets me is what teacher in his/her right mind still bugs authors with this crappy assignment? Rude, rude, rude. Hey, let’s all go take an author’s valuable time to answer your stupid questions, for which answers are readily obtainable in a simple FAQ in many places.

    I’m with you.

  48. I play online games. Massively multi-player sort of games; the ones that are often populated by primarily horny 14-year-old boys. And I don’t tolerate netspeak. In this sort of circumstance I would reply with “I’m sorry, I speak English so I didn’t understand that.” I also publicly announce that I prefer being friends with people who can spell complicated words like “you” and “are.” And while online I type with appropriate grammer and spelling. What I have noticed is that the people do improve their typing skills around me. I see them speak to other friends in netspeak that I wouldn’t tolerate, but when they talk to me they talk how I talk. Leading by example, I guess. Now, that is a much less formal venue than even a Myspace email, but maybe the point of suggesting improvement would go a long way. Or maybe it wouldn’t — there are plenty of people I refuse to hang out with in my games due to their lack of grammer skills and they don’t seem to mind a bit.

  49. I don’t think you’re being old-fashioned and cranky at all. If I were her teacher, I would want her to understand the difference between corresponding with one of her peers and corresponding with a professional adult.

    On a different note, I find that sites like Myspace tend to blur the lines a little for my own students. When they found out that I had a Myspace site, there was a noticeable change in their attitudes toward me – not disrespectful, but a little less formal. I don’t know if this is the case, but Courtney might just assume that anyone using a social networking site like Myspace condones the use of the “shortened” version of our language that kids her age use so frequently (I wonder – is there an actual name or tag for this “version”?).

  50. As a high school teacher, I take offense to those that insinuate that teachers are teaching “fingerpainting” to their students. Remember that wonderfully trite expression, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink? I can teach formal English from now until doomsday, but when kids don’t care if their grade gets docked for “u” and “3” instead of “E” and other common Texting lingo, there’s not much else I as a teacher can do.

    I would hit the delete key – or grammatically correct her e-mail and send it back as my response. But at 37 I guess I’m old and snarky too. 🙂

  51. Laurie,

    As someone who used to teach high school students college-level ENG 101, I was adamant about putting on the spell- and grammar-checks before conducting an online interview (they had to use a primary source for one of their papers). I am a Word Nazi, however, and a lot of English teachers aren’t. If this means I must embarrass my students into writing well, so be it. Most teachers won’t go this far–ere go, they’re not Word Nazis.

    As far as how to approach Courtney, I think this is an opportunity you shouldn’t pass up. Who knows if anyone else will ever tell her that the way she writes is just as much a first impression as what you wear to a job interview. Laurie Halse Anderson giving this advice will stay with her for the rest of her life. Really.


  52. How Not to Write to Anyone Who Isn’t a Friend

    You aren’t being cranky at all. Count me with those who find the use of text-y abbreviations and the non-use of capital letters and appropriate punctuation maddening. It’s one thing to write that way when you are addressing your friends. These are people who know you and know how you think. But when you are writing to an author you don’t know, or writing to a wider audience, it’s just plain rude. I belong to a listserv dealing with YA literature. The people on it are primarily librarians, and therefore presumably have college degrees (in many cases, they have a graduate degree). There are a few people who persist in using the no-capitals, no punctuation, text-message abbreviations in their posts. Not only does this make them incredibly difficult to read, it’s unprofessional. But the response to a request to please use proper grammar was “I don’t have the time.” Right. Because it takes so long to put your pinky on that Shift key. I think this student needs to be taught when it’s appropriate to write like that and when it most definitely is not. I had a student try to interview me for a paper she had to write. Like this student, her questions were vague and far too broad, and her writing style was similar. I wrote her back and told her I was having trouble understanding what she wanted to know, because I couldn’t read the message clearly as it was written. I asked her to please add the capital letters and punctuation that would make her meaning clearer, as well as to be more specific in her questions. Her second attempt was better, though still far from what I would have expected from a high school junior. (I should add that this is a student I’ve known for several years, so I could speak more freely to her.)

  53. I think you might be able to walk the line between village auntie and cranky grammar woman if you gently point out to Courtney how her email makes *her* appear — as opposed to how it makes your teeth grind and your grammar-detector wail.

    We’re all making a load of assumptions about Courtney based on her few lines of TXT, and I somehow doubt she’s imagined her choice of style would spur such a strong set of negative reactions. I have a feeling we wouldn’t be half so irritated with a few spelling/punctuation errors if her message had been written with conventional capitalization and vocabulary. So overall, I think this more a matter of “appropriate” than “correct,” and I do think it’s important for Courtney to understand that.

    Of course, the trick is how do you do that without embarrassing the crapola out of her?

    Oh, and I’d ignore the homework issue entirely. She’ll probably get the message that her total lack of professionalism blew any chance of even getting generic hints for her project.

    Or you could just be a weenie and turn the tables by responding in impeccable Shakespearean iambic pentameter! “How dost thou like it, young language-butcher?” (Ok, that wasn’t even close to iambic pentameter, but you get the idea.)

  54. Maybe I should note be even commenting on your journal, considering that I’m currently in 8th grade, but even I know better that to write to an author like in TXT – speak. Really, I would be afraid to even write to my friends like that.

    I’m not sure why people do this, in fact in worries me a little. Yet, our own President said “Is our children learning,” and many people in my class failed to see his mistake, (then again, this just might be a rumor, God knows who much junk people spread about the President these days)

    What I am trying to say is, message her back. Don’t necessarily correct her grammar/spelling, just tell her that if she doesn’t use proper writing and communication skills, people will fail to either understand her, and/or take her seriously.

    It does sound rude, but if she keeps on writing this way, she is just going to be ignored by mostly everyone (then again, that just might be in the corners of the internet were I lurk in).

    I sound really bratty and hypocritical (considering that my own grammar is full of commas-in-all-the-wrong-place and clauses) in this comment, and I apologize.

    Also why do people assume that all teenagers type in TXT – speak? I find it annoying sometimes that people stereotype by age so much.

    1. Don’t feel bad about what you said. Just because you’re younger than her (we assume, anyway) and your grammar is less-than-perfect does not make your opinion any less worthwhile. The difference here is, you actually took the time to try to write correctly, whereas the infamous Courtney really seems to have just tossed something out there as quickly as she could, and who cares about things like spelling and grammar?

      And you’re entirely right. Few people will take someone seriously if they cannot be bothered to spell and use grammar correctly. Of course, the exceptions to that rule are generally people who also don’t bother.

      As for why people feel the need to generalize, it seems mainly to be because it’s easier. “All teens…” as opposed to “All the teens I’ve seen recently except this one at school and that one at such-and-such…” and so on.

  55. As a college junior, I would be tempted to hit the delete key. If she can’t be bothered to take the time to write in proper English, she doesn’t deserve a response. I never write that way, and I still cringe every time I go to text someone and have to use any form of shortcut.

    I think whether we are being “cranky” or old-fashioned is completely irrelevant. Shortcuts are only appropriate when you’re talking to a friend or at least someone you know well, and that is that. There is no reason to feel obligated to take important time out of your life to respond to someone who obviously could not be bothered to take more than a few seconds of her own.

  56. Wow, I read the responses here and feel bad inside. I do agree, if you put on your site that you aren’t doing others’ homework, of course you shouldn’t go ahead and do it! Yet, I do feel like she should get a response. *Perhaps she hasn’t been told how to address people professionally.
    *Perhaps she has not taken any thought to write more proper.
    *Perhaps she HAS already done some research and as stated just wanted something in her paper from an insiders view – and doesn’t think this falls in the category of you doing her homework.

    At any rate, about the whole punctuation thing, I’ve been online using chat, groups, forums, and blogs for nearly 10 years and it is customary to use shorthand online, especially for teens. It can become so much of a habit that one does not even think as they type. It is a shame, but not saying anything does not clue our youth in that this isn’t good language to use outside of chatting with a friend online or texting (in which sometimes shorthand is expedient and less expensive). I honestly see no problem with it, it is all for fun, but for business sake, educational needs (as in this case) and definitely at all times offline, using computer shorthand is a no-no.

  57. Courtney

    As a middle/high school teacher, I completely understand your frustration with such informal writing. I don’t know a single teacher who accepts or encourages this kind of writing and yet, it is prevalent with my students. I often hear, “It only matters to you because you’re a teacher, but nobody else cares.” Ugh!

    Thanks for writing – I have sucked in many a student to reading with the novel “Speak” which has given me a great deal of credibility when suggesting other novels. I saw you in Portland (OR) several months ago and enjoyed it tremendously. Thanks again for writing books I can get students to read AND enjoy.

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