Digital communication and literacy

The language of digital communication and links with literacy

Degree type


Closing date

27 March 2023



Citizenship requirement


About the research project

Tasmania has literacy rates among the lowest in the country (ABS, 2012). Being functionally illiterate has a negative impact at school, on employment choice, and often on psychological wellbeing (e.g., Forrest et al., 2018). At the same time, our reliance on written language for our interactions has never been higher. Young people are constantly consuming and creating digital information, often in the form of written words.

The proposed project aims to a) examine the language styles that Tasmanian high school and university students use in their digital messages, and b) assess whether and how these styles relate to their traditional literacy skills. These questions come a decade after the outpouring of concern that teenagers, exposed to such "textisms" as "gr8, c u @ skool!!!", would lose their ability to read and write conventionally. This fear was debunked (for a review, see Wood, Kemp, & Plester, 2014), when it was shown that young people who used more of these linguistically creative textisms had better literacy skills than their peers.

Today, digital writing instead tends to omit grammatical markers (capitalisation, punctuation,) and to incorporate emojis and extraaaaaa letters. It is time to re-assess: the project would replicate and extend the research designs of a decade ago, to assess whether these changes in writing style have led to reductions in young people's writing quality and ability. The findings would help create short, practical modules for young people to improve their ability to tailor their writing to the situation, with implications for social and vocational success.

Primary supervisor Nenagh Kemp is an international leader in the language of digital communication, with 16 articles, five invited chapters, and a book on this topic. Co-supervisor Kate Talsma is an ECR with research interests in educational psychology, and brings expertise in language teaching and learning.

To succeed in this project, applicants would need to have a keen interest in language and literacy, above-average English language skills, and meticulous attention to detail in their written language.

Primary Supervisor

Meet A/Prof Nenagh Kemp


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $31.500 per annum (2023 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Excellent English language skills, attention to detail.

Desirable criteria :

  • Skills and/or experience that enhance a person's capacity to undertake the project.

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select your project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, A/Prof Nenagh Kemp to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. Submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application, you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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