Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


The purpose of this study was to investigate how adolescents in a small urban setting in the upper Midwest use alternative modes of written communication (i.e., text messaging, email, instant messaging, and social networking) for discourse purposes in order to identify ways in which these modes could be utilized by non speaking individuals. This study explored the factors related to choice of mode, including identity of the communication partner, number of communication partners, purpose of the communication, and personal preferences of the individual.

This qualitative study followed grounded theory methodology and used interviews as the primary means of data collection. The data was transcribed and analyzed through open coding, to answer the research question "How and why do the form, function, and purpose of teenagers' communication vary across different modes of written communication?" The participants in the study were 13 individuals between the ages of 14 and 18.

Data analysis revealed three categories. The first category was related to intrapersonal considerations such as the personal preferences of the individual. The second category, interpersonal explained the understanding participants possessed about semantic and pragmatic aspects of communication. The final category, extra-personal included factors outside the communication itself such as the attempts of others to regulate use of technology or concerns about privacy and safety.

Based on those categories, four assertions emerged to answer the research question. Those assertions were: adolescents are skilled communicators who use different modes of communication to communicate different functions with different partners, adolescents are skilled communicators who are aware of the nuances of communication in a written genre, adolescents are aware of the potential dangers inherent in using these modes and they know how to protect themselves from said dangers, and adolescents may resist the attempts of outsiders to control their communications.

Finally, the codes were further refined during axial coding in order to identify the central phenomenon, causal conditions, context, intervening conditions, strategies, and context. Axial coding analysis led the researcher to the emerging theory, adolescents are active communicators who purposefully choose their modes of communication and control how, when, and with whom they use each mode.