Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Word Processing and Writing: A Summary

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Word Processing and Writing: A Summary

Article excerpt

LAST FALL in this column (October 1992), I reported a "mixed bag" of findings from a study on word processing and creativity.

I also warned that the findings were suspect in that I didn't think that the writing tasks assigned by the researchers constituted "authentic" tasks. We have no reason to suspect that a technology will improve students' products when they have no interest in constructing those products in the first place. With that caveat in mind, we can turn to a summary of research on the effects of word processors on student writing by Ilana Snyder of Monash University (Victoria, Australia), which appeared in the spring 1993 issue of Educational Research.

First Snyder reviewed studies that used the testimonials of professional writers. Most of these are positive. Gabriel Garcia Marquez said that his writing was revolutionized after "I made the greatest discovery of my life: the word processor." But some are not. Kingsley Amis finds "my mind, my typewriter, and the Oxford Dictionary to be entirely adequate for my needs," and Iris Murdoch declares that she "cannot imagine how thinking can take place on these awkward machines."

Snyder then moves on to anecdotal reports that, again, are largely positive. In some of these reports, the teacher engages in writing with the students - with highly positive results in terms of outcomes and attitudes. These results are in accord with those I reported for computers in general in a special April 1993 issue of Electronic Learning. However, some students "find it difficult to move beyond obsessive editing and concern about the surface features of the text," she concluded. Ease of revision also makes some writers feel that a piece is never finished.

The results of quality-oriented research studies are equivocal. However, as Snyder observes, some of the negative studies required students to learn word processing along with or slightly ahead of the writing task. Some research collected only a few essays over a period as short as two weeks. These are hardly settings in which to find improved quality. And some studies made use of the word processor only after the material had been composed with conventional means. …

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