READING AND WRITING FOR ELECTRONIC JOURNALS
Patricia Wright Medical Research Council Applied Psychology Unit
There is a real sense in which the new technologies provide a testbed for evaluating our understanding of reading and writing processes. For exampie, the first draft of this chapter was written on a lap portable Computer having only an 8-line screen. Consideration of such an activity seems to challenge our knowledge of the various executive control processes of writing. Do we yet have theories of reading and writing which will predict how the constraints imposed by this machine will influence either the content or style of what gets written?
The impact on cognitive processes of some of the constraints appear obvious. The smaller screen may well increase the memory load for material that has just been written. Does this affect the cohesion of the text or do authors have their writing goals so adequately nested that visual support is a minimal requirement? The adequacy of this goal structure seems unlikely if Wason is correct in suggesting that, in some important senses, authors may not know what they are intending to say until it has been written ( Wason, 1970, 1980). To a casual eye, paragraph length seemed shorter for the draft text generated via the 8-line screen than it usually is with a 24-line CRT display. Without further research it is not possible to say whether such shrinkage reflects a reduction of substantive content within the paragraphs, corresponding to an attenuation of the way ideas are elaborated, or whether this is primarily a stylistic change in expression with the smaller screen promoting tighter writing.