Codes are distinct means of communication you’ve absorbed through your life — through where you grew up, the people you grew up with, your friends, your education; each represents a possible “code” you’ve picked up. Think of them like tools — and in your toolbox you have many. How you speak (the code(s) you use) with your friends is likely different than how you would “speak” in a college essay. How you text is different from how you speak to your parents. But why?
Here, try this on. When writing an essay for one of your classes, the voice you used may have sounded something like this. Read it out loud!
“These methods of communication are central to one’s identity, way of being, and understanding of themselves. To move beyond this reasoning…”
Does that sound like how you talk? Probably not. Right there, you’ve discovered a code. The one above could be considered “academic speak,” or Standard American English. You’ve probably come across this code reading scientific articles or stiff theoretical papers.
As a college student, you may have encountered writing assignments that made you feel like you had to shed the language you are comfortable with and adopt an “academic” tone, to use “better” vocabulary.
But no code is inherently “better” than another; codes aren’t in a hierarchy, they just work more effectively in different rhetorical situations.
Every person has their own set of codes that is integral to their identity. The way you speak or write, in different situations and to different people, reflect pieces of who you are. Every single code that is a part of you is unique and valuable, and most importantly, equal.
It’s not wrong to have different codes, or to have trouble with academic codes. A lot of college students get the idea that the writing code used for academic papers is better then whatever they use at home, and that is not true. An academic tone has its rhetorical situation, and it can be learned without discarding more personal codes.
And it also doesn’t mean that you have to leave your personal codes at home. That’s called “code switching” — switching between the different codes you have. Your codes can be integrated into your college work through “code meshing” — meshing different codes into a work. The difference between code switching and code meshing is kind of like this: code switching is painting in one color, but code meshing allows you to paint in all different colors! Sure, maybe your teacher wouldn’t be very happy if you wrote your research paper on snake reproduction in your local slang, but wouldn’t that slang be great in a flash fiction piece? It all depends on the rhetorical situation, the “picture” you want to paint.
This is where it gets really interesting, and empowering. You, yes you, can use whatever code you want when you're writing. Whatever codes are inside you, you can paint them on the page. But before writing a paper, paragraph, or even a sentence, ask yourself this: what am I trying to say, and to who? And then: how am I trying to say it; what code could I use? For many assignments, the code you use may be clearly defined and expected. But there is always room to play. See what works!
Learning how to write in an academic code means you can add it to the repertoire of codes you have built up. It doesn’t mean that you have to leave your own codes behind to succeed. Embracing your own codes and yourself will give you a huge confidence boost. It’s a shift from “I have to say it like this” to “How do I want to say this?” Choice is empowering, and you have the choices at your disposal.