The Importance of Code-Shifting When Writing

I am currently preparing to teach college composition this fall. I am busy writing my syllabus and meeting with other professors and perusing colleagues’ sample assignments. Honestly, I’m having so much fun that my cheeks hurt from absent-minded smiling.

As part of the university’s orientation, I am participating in a four-day Teaching Writing Workshop. In contrast to my normal daily routines, I am now finding myself in a room full of people who speak my language. My other language, that is.

In today’s session, I appreciate what our mentor shared about code-shifting. Obviously, we expect our students to write in ways that are appropriate for academia – in other words, “standard English.” But it is equally important that our students understand necessary rhetorical modes for given contexts.

In plain English, professors and students alike must appreciate that certain ways of communicating are perfectly appropriate for some situations, such as short summations sent by text messaging, informal notes passed through e-mail, and everyday jargon that may be expected in some social or familial circles.

One style of communicating should not be deemed as better, more valuable, or more intellectual than another style. Rather, each may be necessary in a certain setting. In a college composition class, though, students will benefit from learning another vernacular – the one most commonly shared amongst those in the world of research and citation and communication. I venture to say that this skill is helpful in other arenas too.

This idea of code-shifting, knowing when to use which form of communication, is far-reaching in its implications. As a mom to young children, I try to speak in ways they can understand. And whenever I am speaking to a group of women at a retreat or a Bible study, I speak in ways appropriate to that setting.

Then there’s the writing.

After three years in a graduate program for rhetoric and composition, I found that my own writing voice had become so formal that it took me some time to shift gears. Blogging, however, has been a great remedy for that. At first, my blog posts resembled longer paragraphs and lengthier sentence structures. There was even a somewhat “detached” voice – the kind that has become a hallmark in scientific writing. But the medium of blogging allows for a more casual tone. Now I find that I can switch back and forth more easily, depending on the writing requirement.

Code-shifting. It’s a great skill both in writing and in speaking.

Do you find yourself speaking or writing differently
depending on your audience?

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Code-Shifting When Writing

  1. First I had to stop laughing out loud over the “cheeks hurt from absent-minded smiling” comment. 🙂 Hurray for you !!!

    Yes, I code shift, even among my own blog posts. The group In Other Words Tuesdays has a more solemn tone to it. My other posts tend to be more humorous.

    I learned something today – I am a code-shifter. I wonder if that is akin to a shape-shifter? Probably not.
    Happy Tuesday !!

  2. What an informative post. I do find I have to rewrite often to reach an extensive audience. More often than not I'm sad to report what I think is written with clarity, has been interpreted far from the mark I was hoping to set.


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