Thursday, June 14, 2007

It is all about Attitude

I've been wondering for a bit now if student services really is the place for me. There are several reasons why I've been questioning this decision. For example, discovering Sesame Workshop has reminded me why I got in to PR in the first place, and I'm pretty intent on dedicating part of my life working for that cause. Another reason is simply that I have yet to meet someone in student services and thought, "I want the job that they have."

The most worrisome thing is that so many of the people I've encountered are extremely negative. They are chipper happy people who have great experiences with students and truly believe in the value of student services. However, in the short periods of time that I've spent with the majority of people on campus and at the conference they complain about faculty, parents, other departments, and even students. I've started to worry that everybody hates their jobs, and it's been helping me create a list of things I don't want to do for the rest of my life.

Yesterday, things were different, and it left me feeling hopeful. I'm doing an internship with the Academic Advising Center here at UCA. Yesterday was my second day so I haven't learned much yet, but the atmosphere was just better than everything I've experienced. Currently we are working on summer registration for the incoming freshmen. The office is working with between 60 and 90 students a day. I expected things to be hectic, but what I have seen is really organized and I haven't been overwhelmed yet.

Even more exciting is the attitude of the advisors. At some point throughout the day each of them came out of their office and commented on how much they love their jobs to no one in particular. That is what I want. I want my everyday experiences at work to be uplifting and energizing. It has been a while since I've been excited maybe even optimistic about student services.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Gender Styles in Online Academic Communities


The relative success of conversations started by men in the workplace, and the relative inability to hear women's voices, is a well-known workplace phenomenon. A similar dichotomy may exist online. I have sampled conversations from a popular collegiate internet forum and analyzed them to determine whether real world communication traits are crossing over into an online medium, producing similar barriers for female students.


F. John, Alli, Jenn, and Geoff thank you for being the laborers of my project. I know that I worked you harder than I promised, and I know that I didn't pay you what you deserve, but I am grateful for every instant that you dedicated to my project. I still don't know what I would have done with out you guys. Thank you.

Dr. Shepherd, thank you for taking me under your wing and guiding me through the sociology of my project. Not only did you give me hope that I could do it, you gave me statistics. Thank you for your help.

Bonnie and Phil, where to begin, thank you for holding me together. Thank you for your optimism and excitement. Thank you for seeing when I couldn't, and thank you for setting the bar higher. Thank you for making my project our project.

Mike thank you for putting up and pulling together. Aside from being the Architect and making it all possible, you were amazing. Thank you for keeping me sane through it all.

Gender Styles in Online Academic Communities

In the early 1990s excitement was rising because theorists believed that text-based Internet communication was going to level the gender playing field. Communicators would be anonymous without face-to-face interaction and conversations would no longer be dominated by men. However, despite email, online bulletin boards, and blogging becoming common, and despite the fact that these skills are becoming essential to most work environments, women are still struggling to have their voices heard. After looking at the posts of participants of the University of Central Arkansas Honors College Online Forum or the "Forum," I have discovered that women's voices are drastically underrepresented. An examination of some basic Forum statistics reveals a disturbing trend: conversations started by males are more likely to be considered seriously, even though women introduce topics for discussion more often. Discussions initiated by women have a higher chance of receiving no attention whatsoever. Further, men have started twice as many meaningfully "active" discussions as women. An active thread is a thread with ten or more unique replies. These figures mean that in an environment of 837 users, women have difficulty getting ten people involved in the topics that they initiate.

The clear discrepancy between the success of men and women's conversation starters is producing an environment biased toward the interests of male participants even though 60% of the users are female. This type of inconsistency has been found in several different types of studies including Pamela Fishman's (1983) and Susan Herring's (2005). In order to be successful in communicating online, not just in the UCA Honors College, but also in the inevitable online media we will encounter in the future, we need to learn how to present our ideas in a way that conveys our meaning as well as prompting a productive response. In addition, we need to learn how to listen to users who are not using our communication styles. The trends I found inspired me to develop a method for quantifying gender traits within forum communication. The coding system I created is based on traits presented by several communication theorists. My research has sought to provide evidence for why women are being overlooked.

The 'Forum'

Before I elaborate on my project, I would like to take a moment to explain what the Forum is and why it is appropriate for my project. For the past three years, students enrolled in the UCA Honors College have been participating in an experimental online community called the Honors College Online Forum. An Internet forum is an interactive online space that promotes discussion and community. A forum supports conversation with threaded discussions. This means that one user begins a discussion by starting a new thread. The other users involved in the discussion post their replies. The thread is stored in order and the entire conversation can be read from beginning to end. In this dynamic setting, members are able to begin discussions and respond to one another in an asynchronous fashion. The interchange of ideas can be likened to a conference call except the medium is written instead of oral communication.

The Forum constitutes an ideal research opportunity for a number of reasons. The first beneficial aspect of a forum with regards to research is that all of the discussions are documented and stored; meaning anyone with access can accurately recall and research the interactions. Another aspect is that the Honors College is an academic community. The participants on the Forum are educated and expected to communicate with one another in a similar fashion as well as on similar topics. This means that we would expect users to have similar topics of interest despite gender, and that the discrepancy between sexes should be lower than normal. Finally, the Honors College Online Forum has a real life component that is unlike many of the other online message boards that students frequent. Various online forums bring people to the discussions with topics of interest. For example, you could join a message board about gardening or your favorite movie, and you would be able to create any identity that you liked for yourself. In the Honors College students and professors are interacting with one another on campus and in class. This means that each user is held accountable for their online identity. The Forum requires learning a communication etiquette comparable to the communication style expected in our future work environments.

Project Inspiration

I left UCA and the Honors College on a semester for an internship, and when I returned the community was caught up in this online phenomenon. Since I was a semester behind, I had missed important community creating conversations. I was excited to catch up and find my place in this new college experience. I eagerly voiced my opinion on the current topics and started threads that I hoped would inspire conversation and build camaraderie among my fellow Forum users. I started threads about religion, I participated in threads about politics, and I even shared my favorite movie quotes with everyone. I quickly noticed that despite my efforts, I did not seem to be receiving any response. The posts that followed mine did not include or discuss my points. In fact, the threads I started only received a couple of replies. I felt marginalized and disconnected from the discussion. Because of my inexplicable estrangement, I became a "lurker." Although I did not participate in observable ways, I never became less active. In fact I probably became more addicted. I read every single word that was posted, but never voiced my own opinion. The means I used to express my ideas changed from public threads to private messages. I was only having discussions with individuals and not the entire community.

One day as I was lurking, I read a post that turned on a light bulb and connected my education in gender studies to my Forum experience. The first time that I read this post, I was instantly impacted by its femininity to the point that I probably thought it smelled good. As I read it again I started to realize why the post seemed so feminine. The first and most obvious trait of this post that struck me as feminine was the topic. The thread was about phobias and this poster was telling stories about her fear of mice. Not only is there a longstanding social acceptance for women to have fears and be timid so that men can be protective and brave, but I was also playing out these stories in my head and they characteristically included the images of a woman teetering on top of a kitchen chair and shooing away the persistent mouse with a broom. Granted, her topic was overwhelmed by my stereotypical ideas and comical images, but as I looked more closely at her language, my conviction that it was a female post was cemented. She hedged and qualified her conversation starter as well as somehow filling her story with screaming, laughter, and the asides that would be expected from any dynamic storyteller. This post was inspirational for me, because it managed to show women's language in both of the roles that I have seen researchers lay out for it. It included the intriguing and inclusive language that builds community and drew me into the story, and the unassertive language that seems to disqualify or downplay the points being made.

Gender Theory

In my communications courses and my gender and language course I learned that theorists argue that women are being held back because of their communication styles. My project is based upon, and supported by, these theories. Pamela Fishman (1983) addresses the power relationship between men and women during conversation. While her study focuses mainly on married couples, her theories are still relevant and useful for my project because they address the work involved in creating and maintaining conversations. Her research revealed that the women clearly worked harder. Similar to my research, she found that the women were starting more topics, yet having fewer topics that were considered successful. Women were doing their share of the work in the male initiated conversations by responding or listening as the situation needed. However, the men were not filling the same role for the female-initiated conversations, so the women were forced to do extra work to make their conversations a success. Fishman asserts that the men maintain dominance over both the female and male topics by having the power to decide which conversations will be successful. Similar conclusions can be drawn in my study where women are receiving half as many replies and being ignored twice as often as men.

Robin Lakoff’s (1978) work outlines the traits that characterize women's speech. Being able to select and define these traits was vital to my project because they make it possible for me to decide what can be considered gendered communication. Lakoff breaks female traits down into three major categories: Lexical Traits, Phonological Traits, and Syntactic-Pragmatic Characteristics. The phonological traits are sound patterns in the way women speak and were not a part of my research since the Forum does not document sound patterns. I took several traits directly from the other two categories. Lakoff stresses that these traits are not an aspect of being a woman, but rather, they are cultural expectations associated with gender, which is important because she believes, "Style is a virtue only so long as it is flexible" (1978, p.147). Lakoff worries that these traits, unfortunately, are not flexible. We claim that they are techniques for being polite, but in actuality they are creating an image for women that expresses that we either have no opinions or we are manipulative. Lakoff believes that none of the three are the truth. She claims that these traits are a tool for maintaining non-responsibility, or the refusal to claim responsibility. If this refusal to claim responsibility is present on the Forum, it would explain the discrepancy between the success of men and women's discussions.

Susan Herring's (2005) work is similar to mine not only in the fact that it looks into gender communication, but also in that it focuses on gender communication online. She looks at the differences in communication as well as the differences in computer and Internet access between women and men. Concerning access, she found that slightly more women are Internet users, but, "women and men still do not have equal access to the creation and control of what takes place on the internet" (2005, p. 204). Her study of online communication looked at email, message boards, chat rooms, web pages, and more. Herring found that the Internet offers equality in the tools available, but it does not conceal gender differences as once predicted. The societal roles of men and women transfer over to the Internet and both men and women actively fill them. Neither sex is masking itself with anonymity. Like Herring, my work looks at the ways gender perpetuates online.

Deborah Tannen's (1994) basic theory states that men and women are communicating for two different purposes, and the differences of style are rooted in the differences of goal. She believes that women strive to create connections with their communication, while men strive to obtain status. In order to obtain these goals, female communication styles tend to include qualifiers, hedges, and euphemisms; which are ideal for interpersonal and cooperative communication. These communication tools help build community by being non-confrontational and fostering connectivity. Contrariwise, male communication styles are competitive and assertive. Tannen specializes her theory to address the problems these different, goals could cause in a professional environment. Since male-talk includes an aspect of competition and self promotion that is not a part of female-talk, women may be mistranslated as having a lack of confidence or expertise. My theory is that communication styles extend into our online interactions and that these gender theories could explain the gender discrepancies found on the Forum.

Methodology Creation

It quickly became clear that my theory was a bit convoluted and that I had to break it down into manageable pieces. I decided that the first step in this project was to prove that communication styles extend into our online transactions. It seemed to me the natural first step, because Tannen's theories could not apply unless the Forum was conversational. Since my interest still lay in the gender aspect of our communication I decided to focus on conversational traits that are often considered gendered. As I tried to look through the posts, it quickly became obvious to me that my involvement in this community was inhibiting my ability to be an objective observer. Because I had been reading the Forum intently for a couple years, it was relatively easy for me to associate a post with its author or the thread it originated from. I often found myself thinking things like, "I know that Sarah's posts are usually more feminine than this," or "Michael doesn't normally post like this. This was just a very heated discussion." This is why I decided to find a way to quantify my research. My goal was to create a set of rules that were strict enough that my knowledge about users and conversations could not affect my results. I wanted to force a level of objectivity so that I could even code my own posts with impartiality. I also liked the idea that anyone interested in my work could conduct the same study and produce the same results. What I did not realize at the time of this decision was that I was incorporating a whole new field into my project.

I did not have experience in quantitative research. My advisors recommended that I speak with Dr. Shepherd in the UCA Sociology department. He was working on a project that was also trying to use quantitative analysis to examine written texts. Though he did not have specialized knowledge regarding the gender aspect of my project, his advice provided an experimental foundation for my project. His first suggestion was for me to go through a group of posts and pick out everything that I felt was gendered. Then I should go back and try to articulate why I decided to pick them out. I used the things that I found as well as some traits of gendered communication from Lakoff and Herring to create various 'coding categories.' According to Dr. Shepherd, my plan should be to code a set of sample posts to find and total the number of instances.

The other suggestions that Dr. Shepherd offered were the use of multiple coders and the sample size. He recommended that I have at least three coders to ensure reader reliability. With more than one coder, I could average our results together and hopefully reduce human error. I actually decided to use five coders instead of three. Dr. Shepherd also suggested that I use a sample of 400 posts. This turned out to be the most beneficial suggestion he could make. Because of this suggestion, all of my data is statistically significant, and all of my findings should follow through in larger studies.

Another force that molded my project was the SURF grant. Shortly after my meeting with Dr. Shepherd, my advisors and I decided to apply for the grant. My motivation for applying was to be able to pay the students who were going to help me with my coding. The students I had in were also involved in several campus organizations, working part time jobs, and active in the Honors College. I wanted to be able to offer them an incentive for helping as well as acknowledge how valuable their time is. In getting ready to write my grant proposal, I started to hear troubling stories: that the grant committee did not like humanities projects, and that they were known for only giving money to scientific studies. I also had several other factors working against me. I had heard that they were reluctant to give money to graduating seniors or reward projects that were less than a year long. In order to try to overcome the odds, I worked at making my project as scientific as possible. I tried to set my project up following the scientific method with a testable hypothesis and an experimental plan. I decided to have training and controlled coding sessions to create an environment that would hopefully isolate the variables I was looking for. I also became more intent on finding a way to randomize the sample of posts I used. What I did not realize at the time was that these changes created a solid foundation that successfully supported my project.

The plan I formulated was to create my coding categories first, and then pull out my post sample while I found coders to help with my project. I decided I wanted five coders, including myself, and I wanted them to each code the same 400 posts twice. I planned on having one training session and four different coding sessions that followed a Tuesday/Thursday for two and a half weeks. After the coding, I was going to put the data into SPSS and start analyzing my results. Almost everything went according to plan.

Category Creation

I started by going back over Robin Lakoff's work. Though she did not always have succinct definitions, she had the terminology and examples for my first five categories. My second source for categories came from following Dr. Shepherd's suggestion and using a group of posts from a recent thread in general discussion. I printed the posts off and went through highlighting everything that I thought might be gendered. When I was done with that, I went back through and created categories out of all the highlighting patterns that I could name and explicitly define. My final source of categories was the Susan Herring article "Gender and Power in On-line Communication" (2005). Her work was the closest that I had found to research that I was trying to do. Because of her I added several categories that seemed obvious, but did not think to include since they did not appear in the small selection of posts I used to create categories.

I started with 12 categories, though not all of them had titles or definitions. By the time I finally finished I had removed two, split one in half, and added four more. My first goal was to limit myself to 10 categories, so when I reached 15 I forced myself to stop. I did not want too many categories because I knew it would be a lot for anyone else to learn in a short period of time, but I also did not want to be stereotyping gendered communication by only having a couple of traits. I think it weeded itself out to 15 well. They were the ones that I felt I could accurately name and define.

Sample Set

My next step was to pull out the sample set of posts that would be used for my study. Mike Allen, the Forum Architect, helped me with this step and managed the parts that involve the technology that makes the Forum. First, all of the posts from the social forums were collected, and then separated by sex. Both groups were then randomized. Mike selected the first 250 posts for each sex and gave them to me. I went through each post weeding out 'bad' posts until I had 200 'good' female posts, discarding whatever remained of the initial 250. I then did the same for the male group.

A 'bad' post was any post that did not include communication unique to the poster. An example of this would be if the post was only a link or a picture. If the poster included a phrase like, "check this out it's so cool," with their link then it was included in the study. Another example of a 'bad' post would be an organization announcement. A student might post the announcement of an event that one of their campus organizations is sponsoring, but because it is on behalf of the organization, there is no way to know for sure if the communication is unique to the poster or if it is simply the verbiage from one of their flyers, so they were not useable posts. Once I was done gathering the 400 posts that were going to be part of my study, I brought them back to Mike and the real fun began.

This part of the process always makes me think of the street vendor who is swapping around the nut shells so you will not find the one with the pea inside. I did not want the coders to get used to coding male or female posts. I feared they would start expecting to find gendered traits and they would start coding things as gendered that they normally would not. In order to combat this, after the 400 posts were selected, the two groups were brought back together and re-randomized. This made the coding packets for week one of the research. For week two I wanted the coders to code the same posts for reader reliability, but I did not want them to be in the same context so we mixed them up again. This established the coding packet for the second week and concluded our randomizing frenzy.

Coder Selection

Selecting my coders was the part of the process that I was most worried about. I had applied for my SURF grant, but it was time to sign up coders and I had no idea whether or not I was going to be able to pay them for their time. I was worried that I was going to have difficulty finding students who would have the time to participate even if I could promise them a paycheck. My original goal was to have three coders so that after I included myself I would have four sets of data. I ended up changing my mind and having four coders other than myself so that I could use my data set as a control set or to fill in if anything happened during the study. In choosing my coders, there were three ways that I hopefully minimized biases. The first and most obvious was their gender. I used two women and two men. Secondly, two of my coders, one male and one female, had at some point in college studied gender communication theories. The final characteristic of my coders that might help to avoid bias was their participation level on the Forum itself. All of my coders were honors students so they all had access to the Forum and could have read any of the posts included in the study when they were posted, but only two of them were active users who frequented the social sections of regularly. All four of them were fantastic and generously volunteered their time without any guarantee of pay.

Coder Training

Since I was going to be coding alongside the people working with me, the amount of help that I could offer them during the coding process was very limited. I did not want my assistance to skew the way the coding turned out, so I decided that once the coding process started all I could help them with was clarification of category definitions and examples. They were not allowed to discuss specific posts with me or any of the other coders. I tried to give them enough resources before the coding started that my inability to help would not be a problem. The Thursday prior to the first coding session I had my coder training. I made them a handbook that included a quick reference list of the categories as well as the definitions and examples of each. During the training session, we went through each of the categories one at a time and looked for an example of them in the set of practice posts. After we finished discussing and going over each category, we practiced coding. Then I sent them home with more practice posts to do. I told them to call me anytime they wanted day or night with questions hoping that I would be able to answer everything that might arise before the coding sessions started.


Completing the coding during scheduled sessions offered numerous benefits. By having the sessions, I was present during the coding so I was able to handle any problems that arose. I was also able to make sure that friends, roommates, and significant others were not affecting the coding by offering help or causing distractions. One of the unexpected benefits was that the coding sessions created a sense of accountability and clearly defined deadlines for the coders. This made the project more pressing and more organized, and I believe that it greatly increased the success of the coding process.

Despite the coding training and coding sessions, there was still some variation between the coders. To get the final data results, all four sets of data were averaged together. A few differences are worth discussing. The first is Jenn Richardson and her modals. Being a copy editor for several of the publications on campus, Jenn was a fantastic coder. However, one of the problems that I ran into was with Jenn and the Modals. According to the Coding Handbook, Modals are "words that change a statement from a simple fact by removing the assertion." These are often signified by would, could, and should. Here is an example. Instead of saying "Go rent a video," someone could say, "If I were you, I would go rent a video," or, "You could go rent a video." The difficulty we had, was that Jenn was coding every instance of would, could, or should as Modals, and often they did not fit the Coding Handbook definition. Someone might say, "If I had a car, I would go rent a video." They used would, but they were not removing assertion. In fact, they were asserting that they would if they could. Fortunately, I caught this during the first coding session and went over the definition we were using with Jenn again.

Another example, and one of my favorite anecdotes from the project, has to do with one particular post and F. John Rickert's decisions in coding it. The post reads, "Yes, you also love to use the same punctuation marks!!! With blatant disregard for the rules of English grammar!!! Repeatedly... Do you use them constantly???" According to the Coding Handbook excessive punctuation and ellipses that indicate a pause are considered Conversational Additions. Each of the coders, with the exception of F.John, coded this post to have four Conversational Additions. F. John highlighted the entire post and coded it as an insult. He may have technically coded it wrong, but I thought it was wonderful. He dealt with the post in a much more successful manner than I believe I did, and he pointed out the need for future studies to have a way to compensate for sarcasm.

Data Results

The data from my research was found to be statistically significant. I can attach a 98% confidence level to this data set, meaning it is extremely likely that the results of this sample are representative of the entire Forum. For a quick overview of the specific results, this chart shows the overall ratio between male and female instances for each of the 15 categories. The yellow indicates a female dominated category and the blue indicates male. The height of the bar reflects the magnitude of the difference or just how 'gendered' the category is. Because of statistical significance of my sample set, the differences between the male and female posts are expected to remain, if not grow, in a larger study.

Online Communication Traits

There were two categories that I created in attempts to compensate for the online aspect of the communication. The results from the Conversational Additions category were supportive of my theory that our communication traits carry over to our online interactions. Conversational Additions are written additions to a post that represent verbal or non-verbal signals that are present during face to face interactions. Examples of this category include words that are underlined or italicized to insinuate a voice change, ellipsis's that represent a pause instead of an etc., and the little happy face pictures known as emoticons. Of the 400 posts in my study 307 of them included at least one Conversational Addition. This shows that Forum users are not only letting their conversational styles "shine through," but are actually striving to make their posts represent the way they interact face to face. This chart, and the charts to follow show, the number of posts that used the trait at least once and the overall number of times the trait was used for each gender. The blue bars represent male posts, the yellow bars, female posts, the blue striped bars represent male instances, and the yellow striped bars are female instances. While neither of these categories were created with the intent of finding gendered results, I did have slight expectations in mind when I made them.

The essential difference between these two categories is how formal they make the post. Considering Tannen's theory that women strive to build community, I expected Conversational Additions to be used more by women then men, Just the opposite was expected for Post Formatting because this category often makes the post look more like a bulleted list or outline and less like a conversation. Both of my expectations held true in the number for men and women who used these traits.


The theorists in my research that discuss masculine communication all agree that it is assertive. The categories included in my research that were intended to represent Assertiveness are Binding Phrases, Profanity, and Insult/Threats. The results for both Binding Phrases and Profanity support the theory that men are speaking assertively and are more likely to use these methods to communicate. The Insult/Threat category had somewhat different results. It is more likely to find an insult or a threat in a male post, but women used more of them. This means that fewer women used insults, but the ones that did were very insulting. This probably confirms the fact that women are more willing to be emotional during their interactions than men, even if that emotion is a negative one.


The majority of my categories were intended to recognize the Hedging in conversation that signals female communication. The most supportive example of Hedging from my research is the Disqualifier category. Disqualifiers are phrases that negate the importance or credibility of presented thoughts or opinions. An example of posting felt that their ideas were silly. According to both Fishman and Lakoff, women use this trait to create a comfortable opening for someone to disagree with what they are proposing. They believe this would be beginning a post with, "Well, I'm not really an expert, but..." or, "This may be a silly idea but ...." Female posts clearly dominated this category, but not because the women that their contributions are worthwhile, but they are trying to foster further suggestions so they do not force their ideas on the community.


Aside from hedging, women were also creating connectivity by simply being polite. Women were more likely to open their post with a greeting to the community or use a friendly closing much like what you would see in a personal letter. Even though Manners was one of the least counted categories, women were using them twice as often as men.

Unexpected Results

While my research was successful in verifying the different ways that men and women communicate online, there were two categories that generated results opposite what I expected to find. The first category was Lexical Hedges. This trait came directly from Lakoff's work and consisted of the kindasand sortas that are often found in front of adjectives. Such as, "He's kinda nice," or, "That was sorta cool." Contrary to expectations, men were clearly using them more often. This may be because men were using this casual tone to "claim their territory," so to say. Even though they were participating in important academic discussions, they were demonstrating their dominance over the medium by creating an environment where their arguments do not require the special formatting that they would for an academic paper.

The other category with surprising results was Added Party, which is using an uncited source to support your statements. I decided to create this category after observing several of our alumni referencing their spouses. For example, they would say, "My husband and I were talking about this last night, and we decided..." Since this category includes any non-cited references, it counts not just spouses, but also friends, parents, professors, and roommates. Based on my experience reading the Forum I decided to consider this a female trait. As it turns out, not only did this not happen nearly as often as I expected, it was used more often by men. One possible explanation for this is that as far as academics go the Honors College is a fairly tight knit community. What I translated as additions of support may have merely been reports of actual events. Instead of citing friends and roommates for support, the posters were probably just setting up the situation and explaining the context of their following comments.


Despite the opportunity for Forum users to subvert the communication status quo, they continue to live up to the cultural expectations that Lakoff says creates their communication style. Men still have the power to decide which conversations are successful. Women are still allowing their messages to be translated as unassertive. The unbalanced division of power continues online. This power divide is detrimental not only to the women trying to communicate, but also to the communities that are not hearing their voices. While it may be capable of containing and displaying written and verbal forms of communication, the Internet is neither. Rather, it is a hybrid of both, and it is going to require research and a new set of communications rules.

Potential Implementations

This project is something more than findings from specific research. This research digs to the core of Internet and language research. I have done more than discover differences between men and women of the UCA Honors College. I have created a tool for studying communication online. It is simple and at this moment a bit rough, but its untapped potential is enormous. It cannot prove or disprove communication theory, but it creates a quantitative option that did not previously exist. It attaches numbers to a field of anecdotes, and it does so without researcher interference. The Internet stores a cornucopia of messages ripe for exploration. With the tool I forged, we can study the differences between women and men as they communicate via message board, e-mail, chat, blog, Web space, and more. Beyond that, as the Internet finds its way into more homes globally, we can study more than just gender. Our independent variable could be ethnicity, social class, or level of education. We have to strive to study all of these things, because the sooner we learn about the differences in how people talk, the sooner we can help them communicate effectively with one another.

Personal Reflection

I found myself in deeper than I was comfortable with in this project. My education in sociological statistics felt a lot like getting thrown overboard and being told to swim, but I floated and I made it. Now I find myself in a place where treading water is not an option. I have to decide between going deeper or heading back to shore. Through my project I have discovered that the exceptionally educated students of the Honors College do not know how to communicate online. This is not the fault of the Honors College. Quite the opposite: the Forum is one of the few opportunities students at the university have to practice with this medium and receive constructive feedback. Despite this fantastic resource, there is so much more that needs to be done to teach students how to communicate online. I cannot head for the beach because the Honors College, the Forum, and the role they are going to have in Internet communication has gotten me too excited to swim away. People entering the professions are invariably required to use some sort of online communication. Internet forum systems provide the perfect medium from which we can derive the tools useful in understanding netiquette. Even more exciting is that not only are we equipped to learn the rules of this medium, but we are the generation that will be writing the rules for this medium. How formal is an email supposed to be? What is appropriate material for a company blog? How should an individual represent themselves on MySpace or Facebook? How long can an asynchronous conversation remain idle before it is improper to reply to it? We will be answering these questions, and I do not want to miss that.


Fishman, P.M. (1983). Interaction: The Work Women Do. In B. Thome, C. Kramerae, & N, Henly, (Eds.) Language, Gender, and Society. (pp. 89-101). Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishing.

Herring, S. C. (2005). Gender and Power in On-line Communication. In J. Holmes, & M. Meyerhoff, (Eds.) The Handbook of Language and Gender. (pp. 202-228).

Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. Lakoff, R.T. (2000). The Language War. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Lakoff, R. T. (1987). Women's Language. In D. Butturff, & E. Epstein, (Eds.) Women's Language and Style. (pp. 139-158). Akron, OH: L&S Books.

Tannen, D. (1994). Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

Turkle,S. (1988). Computational Reticence: Why Women Fear the Intimate Machine. In C. Kramarae (Ed.) Technology and Women's Voices: Keeping in Touch. (pp. 41-61). London: Routledge & Kegan in Association with Methuen.

Recommended Resources

Gauntlett, D. (2002). Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction. New York, NY: Routledge.

Heeter, C. (1994). Gender Differences and VR: A Non-User Survey of What Women Want. Virtual Reality World, March/April, pp. 75-85.

Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York, NY: Touchstone.