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an example of parallel structure

College Prep Writing

Writing vs Speaking

Successful writers are keenly aware of the differences between spoken and written language. They understand that writing is more formal and conservative than spoken language.


Usage Differences

Naturally, both the spoken and written languages have strict rules, but there are important differences. In writing, for example, complete sentences are necessary. In speech, we often do without them: incomplete sentences—phrases and dependent clauses—are perfectly acceptable. Shorter words and sentences are also characteristic of speech, and our range of vocabulary is broader when we write. Additionally, the passive voice occurs more frequently in written English, as do participial phrases; and nonrestrictive appositives are more common in writing too. Generally, contractions are avoided in formal writing.


Another difference is that speech is more expressive than writing. It is easy to communicate anger or excitement in speech, but try it in writing. You cannot write loudly or shout on paper. Of course, you can use bold type or italics. Some writers shout, like THIS! However, you cannot write the way you sound when your are talking. Can you write quietly when you want to make a point gently as we can in speech? Can you whisper on paper? In speech, you can shrug your shoulders, raise your eyebrows, or move your hands for emphasis. In writing, you have only words. Also, we often repeat ourselves in speaking to be sure we are understood, or to give us time to think about what we want to say. Repetition in writing is discouraged because it is boring for a reader.


There are many other differences between the written and spoken language too. Obviously, speakers need listeners. When you speak, you are usually not alone. No other person has to be present when you are writing. You do not put spaces between your words when you speak, and speaking uses no punctuation. In place of punctuation, you use pauses or you speak loudly or softly. You make your voice sound high at the end of a sentence to make some kinds of questions; there are no question marks in speech.


Getting Attention

It is easy to get someone's attention when you want to say something, and if you are good at talking, you can keep a listener's ear. A writer cannot that easily pull a reader into a page, and if a reader tears up a letter, deletes an e-mail message, or puts down a book, the writer will not even know it.


Finally, when you are talking, you have to think quickly, and if you say the wrong thing, it is easy to correct yourself with something like, "That's not what I meant." Writing is more permanent; you cannot take it back or make excuses about what you have written. For that reason, writing is carefully planned. You take your time when you write something. You plan and organize your writing to get it exactly the way you want it.


Is English two languages: one for speaking and one for writing? If you feel that way, you would be right. Speech is natural; everyone learns it. Writing is an invention. We have to learn how to write, and we have to practice and practice. It comes naturally for no one.