Every dialect has its own set of rules, and these slowly shift in spelling and meaning over time. Rules can also change very quickly indeed.
Language and technology
The way we communicate and share information is, thanks to technology, a lot more agile. Some traditionalists bemoan seemingly silly things getting into the dictionary because of the internet, but I personally quite like what this says about how democratic language has become, and how lithe it can be.
Everything has rules. Everything.
Every dialect has its own rules. Even text-speak has its own rules, which is weird because it started out as a way of not making your thumbs tired, and saving valuable and expensive space. Instead of spelling things out all the way to the end, people abbreviated them, ingeniously using numbers in a phonetic way, as well as symbols to create expressions and gestures.
There is of course an overlap between the development of text speak and instant messaging on the internet, in which smiley faces are used where you can’t see one another’s faces or read the tone of each other’s voice.
Text speak is typical of what happens when a medium is constrained, and is a perfect example of how people adapt to their environment, inventing new things along the way. It is self-contained, obeys its own set of rules, and is now so extensively used that it is recognisable even when you find it in other types of media.
Snobs may tut at at text speak – all those unseemly acronyms, numbers drafted in to evoke whole syllables, symbols given new and vulgar roles in personal expression – but if you look back to the days of telegraph, you see that instant messaging in its abbreviated form is not unique to the last couple of decades at all.
In the early 20th century, Telegraph operators would get very bored and lonely sitting by themselves tapping out messages for others, and forged friendships with colleagues hundreds of miles away. Like texting or instant messaging, there were abbreviations for ease of typing and space saving, and ways of indicating their current physical state if they were laughing their arses off.
Made Up Languages
Ok, so we’re probably not going to proofread a huge amount of text speak, but in creative works anything at all can pop up. Not only do writers use languages that are already there; they also make them up. A Clockwork Orange – made up. The Lord of the Rings – extensively made up, with its own alphabet. The Book of Dave – made up. All these works have one thing in common, which is the depth of the world building and the consistency of their language rules.
Beyond the fictional realms, there’s academic writing. It has its own set of rules, numerous ways to reference and lay out research, and a very specific mode of expression in which clarity is the ultimate goal.
Good academic writing – useful tips
First and foremost: BE CONSISTENT.
Consistency is the difference between an ornate and elaborate invented language, and total bollocks. When you write an essay, one of the things most likely to make your lecturer wonder if you’ve stolen your work from somewhere else is if your tone, style, or language suddenly changes. If your writing is only just muddling along and then from nowhere you say something concise and brilliant, it’s going to look like plagiarism.
I’m fairly certain I failed an essay once because of this. It’s not that I was a plagiarist – I was in my first year of university, and still adjusting to what academic writing demanded. I didn’t know what I was doing at all, so wobbled ungracefully from poorly constructed thoughts to well-constructed ones with impressively long words, and in my confusion, couldn’t distinguish between them. My lecturer was less than impressed, especially when I tried to explain that the good bits were not stolen, but me at my most awesome.
Second: BE CONSISTENT.
If you’re using Harvard referencing, then know the rules absolutely inside-out before you apply them.
If you’ve chosen quantitative , qualitative, or a mix of both research methods to conduct your work, be absolutely sure you know how you’re going to lay it out. Be crystal clear about what you’re doing. Be neat, be considerate to your readers, be consistent in your methods.
If you’ve adopted a particular tone or style, if you’ve come up with a language that expresses your research clearly, be consistent in that expression. Be consistent, be consistent, be consistent.
Third: KNOW THE RULES
This is another way of saying BE CONSISTENT; because rules are consistent, and hold the internal logic of language together.
If you know what your rules are, we can apply them easily when we read your work.