The link below is to an article that considers the role of spelling in writing – does it matter?
The link below is to an article that looks at how the coronavirus and lockdown is impacting writers.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at what a preface is.
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Using punctuation and capitalization as a form of protest doesn’t exactly scream radicalism.
But in debates over racial justice, punctuation can carry a lot of weight.
During the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, mainstream news organizations grappled with whether to capitalize the first letter of “black” when referring to Black people. Of course, writing “Black” was already common practice in activist circles. Eventually The Associated Press, The New York Times, USA Today and many other outlets declared that they, too, would capitalize that first letter.
It turns out the push to capitalize “black” is only the most recent way Black writers and activists have pushed back against entrenched power through ostensibly bland elements of writing.
As I discuss in my recent book, “Jim Crow Networks: African American Periodical Cultures,” Black activism in the media can take a variety of forms – some more subtle than others.
Seemingly unimportant elements of writing have long been adapted as tools of Black activism. Much like the recent drive to capitalize “black,” activists have deployed punctuation to question the legitimacy of confessions, criticize justifications made for lynchings and highlight the undervaluing of Black expertise and knowledge.
The power of punctuation
Punctuation was developed in the 3rd century B.C. to visually separate sentences and improve comprehension. But punctuation can do more than clarify. It can extend, contradict and play with meaning.
Think of the difference between ending a sentence with an exclamation point and with an ellipsis, or the way emoticons made of repurposed punctuation can be used to denote sarcasm or add playfulness and emotion.
This makes it a useful tool for activists who seek to upend dominant narratives.
Quotation marks convey suspicion
A push to capitalize has actually happened before.
A decade later, to counter racism in the white press, the Black press used quotation marks when reporting on the case of a young man named Robert Nixon, who was convicted of murder.
In 1938, the white-owned Chicago Tribune notoriously described Nixon – who would serve as the basis for protagonist Bigger Thomas in Richard Wright’s 1940 novel “Native Son” – as an “animal” whose “physical characteristics suggest an earlier link in the species.”
However, the city’s influential Black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, covered the case differently, reporting Nixon’s claim that his confession was the result of police coercion. In a 1938 article, the Defender included a subheading that declared, “Nixon Also Refutes ‘Confession’.”
These simple quotation marks signaled doubt over the legitimacy of this confession, while teaching newspaper readers to be suspicious of so-called legal facts.
As sociologist Mary Pattillo notes in her book “Black on the Block,” the Defender’s strategic use of quotation marks called into question official accounts of Nixon as a murderer. In doing so, the paper highlighted the unfair treatment of Black people by the media, police and court system.
The code of the question mark
Similarly, Black activists used question marks to criticize mainstream accounts of events during the Jim Crow era.
In her 1892 pamphlet “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases,” anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells used question marks in parentheses on four occasions to interrogate descriptions of crimes supposedly committed by Black Americans.
For example, she wrote, “So great is Southern hate and prejudice, they legally(?) hung poor little thirteen year old Mildrey Brown at Columbia, S. C., Oct. 7th, on the circumstantial evidence that she poisoned a white infant.”
She also quoted from one of her earlier newspaper editorials in which she discussed the lynchings of eight Black men by saying that, in each case, “citizens broke(?) into the penitentiary and got their man.” The question mark casts doubt on this “break-in” and suggests that the perpetrators were, in fact, aided and abetted by law enforcement in murdering these men.
These simple question marks subtly undermined a legal system that sought to cast the murders of a young girl and eight men as just responses. Wells indicted not only the legal system but also the white press, which was often an accomplice to racial violence.
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The writer, editor and activist Pauline E. Hopkins similarly used question marks within parentheses in her early Afrofuturist novel “Of One Blood.”
The novel – which contains depictions of a leopard attack, a lost African city and a ghost – was serialized in the pages of the Colored American Magazine from 1902 to 1903. At one point, the protagonist, a Black doctor, brings a patient back to life. Yet the responses to this miracle display ambivalence:
“The scientific journals of the next month contained wonderful and wondering (?) accounts of the now celebrated case, – re-animation after seeming death.”
Much as Wells used the question mark to dismiss the official accounts of lynchings, Hopkins deploys it to undermine the scientific establishment and cast doubt on the journals for their stunned and disbelieving responses to the medical marvel.
For Hopkins, the question mark worked to demand respect for Black expertise and knowledge.
Punctuation activism can be an important companion to on-the-ground activism. It reveals language’s capacity to transform the world. At the same time, it exposes language’s often hidden role in maintaining structures of power.
Certainly, punctuation – like language overall – is typically used in less radical ways. But these examples of early 20th century Black writers, activists and journalists point to punctuation’s possibilities in questioning entrenched power structures and laying claim to alternative futures.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at semicolons.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at seven apps that will help you become a more organised writer.
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The link below is to an article reporting on the purchase of Glose by Medium.
Robots are writing more of what we read on the internet. And artificial intelligence (AI) writing tools are becoming freely available for anyone, including students, to use.
In a period of rapid change, there are enormous ethical implications for post-human authorship — in which humans and machines collaborate. The study of AI ethics needs to be central to education as we increasingly use machine-generated content to communicate with others.
Robots can write, too
AI robot writers, such as GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) take seconds to create text that seems like it was written by humans. In September, 2020 GPT-3 wrote an entire essay in The Guardian to convince people not to fear artificial intelligence.
AI does this through what’s called natural language processing and generation. This involves converting human language to computer commands and vice versa. To do this, machine algorithms study millions of text samples, words, sentences and paragraphs humans use to gain a general understanding of the context of human language. Then machines use that knowledge to put together text.
For example, the free Zyro content generator provides text for websites. I can select the categories “Health and Living” and “Personal Trainer” (I happen to be one, as well as an academic). In two seconds, the following text appears:
I am experienced with personal training, athletic performance, and nutrition. This includes working with children, pregnant women, older adults, people with disabilities, athletes, and anyone looking to achieve a competitive edge, improve their overall health, and overall performance. I also have an interest in alternative health, including wellness coaching and nutrition counselling. In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with my family, the outdoors, and writing.
This sums me up (despite the program knowing nothing about me) and would be fine for my website, if I had one. I have the option to generate more responses, and in two seconds, the program offers:
I am experienced in working with adults and children to improve their overall physical and emotional well-being. I have a strong desire to help you reach your goal […] I love helping others achieve their goals. I love working with others to achieve their goals. I am a mother of two healthy children and a wife to two incredible people.
While this is repetitive and Zyro does not notice the apparent error in the last sentence, these issues would be easy to correct. Text, even for niche purposes, can now be generated in a few clicks.
There are other digital tools such as paraphrasers and rewriters that can generate up to 1,000 articles from a single seed article, each of them substantially unique. Quillbot and WordAI, for instance, can rapidly rewrite text and make it difficult to detect plagiarism. WordAI boasts “unlimited human quality content at your fingertips”.
Questions for schools and universities
So what does this mean for education, writing, and society?
Of course, there’s the issue of cheating on essays and other assignments. School and university leaders need to have difficult conversations about what constitutes “authorship” and “editorship” in the post-human age. We are all (already) writing with machines, even just via spelling and grammar checkers.
Tools such as Turnitin — originally developed for detecting plagiarism — are already using more sophisticated means of determining who wrote a text by recognising a human author’s unique “fingerprint”. Part of this involves electronically checking a submitted piece of work against a student’s previous work.
Many student writers are already using AI writing tools. Perhaps, rather than banning or seeking to expose machine collaboration, it should be welcomed as “co-creativity”. Learning to write with machines is an important aspect of the workplace “writing” students will be doing in the future.
AI writers work lightning fast. They can write in multiple languages and can provide images, create metadata, headlines, landing pages, Instagram ads, content ideas, expansions of bullet points and search-engine optimised text, all in seconds. Students need to exploit these machine capabilities, as writers for digital platforms and audiences.
Perhaps assessment should focus more on students’ capacities to use these tools skilfully instead of, or at least in addition to, pursuing “pure” human writing.
But is it fair?
Yet the question of fairness remains. Students who can access better AI writers (more “natural”, with more features) will be able to produce and edit better text.
Better AI writers are more expensive and are available on monthly plans or high one-off payments wealthy families can afford. This will exacerbate inequality in schooling, unless schools themselves provide excellent AI writers to all.
We will need protocols for who gets credit for a piece of writing. We will need to know who gets cited. We need to know who is legally liable for content and potential harm it may create. We need transparent systems for identifying, verifying and quantifying human content.
And most importantly of all, we need to ask whether the use of AI writing tools is fair to all students.
For those who are new to the notion of AI writing, it is worthwhile playing and experimenting with the free tools available online, to better understand what “creation” means in our robot future.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at 5 collaborative fiction sites.
The link below is to an article/tutorial on how to write using Medium.