Businesses have long relied on computers and word processing to produce documents that are acceptable by most standards of professional appearance. Although initial offerings consisted of little more than electronic versions of the more familiar hardcopy typewriter, more recent programs offer features rivaling those of dedicated desktoppublishing systems. Employing automatic formatting, designer style sheets, full graphics capabilities, and on-line layout assistance, the current market's major word processors now insure that the appearance of the final product will be acceptable. 1 Produced on even a low-resolution laser printer, most documents can easily acquire the look of a commercial typesetter. The quality of appearance is thus insured. However, the quality of the writing is relatively unaffected.
Or is it? Some researchers in the field of computer-assisted composition have suggested that the quality of writing can be improved, if only indirectly, by the use of word processing. 2 A study conducted at UCLA revealed, perhaps not surprisingly, that students found electronic revision faster and easier when compared to the more traditional precursors of type and handwriting. 3 Researchers reasoned that such speed and ease can only make the otherwise burdensome tasks of composition much more pleasant, or at least less tedious, and thus the probability of producing quality prose can be increased. A similar study concluded that the "computer provided incentive to spend more time making revisions, and that it allowed more attention for developing content by deemphasizing correctness on the initial draft."4 From this point of view, the kind of revision that is promoted by computer-assisted composition results in better writing.
These studies, as well as others, suggest that word processing can contribute to the quality of writing, as long as one assumes that ease, speed, and incentive to revise will of necessity result in better prose. 5 How safely one might assume this is another matter. But even if such an assumption were safe, the word processor's contribution would still only be incidental to improving the quality of writing, and better writing would at best still be a byproduct of the computer's assistance. The primary benefits of word processors are thus the same now as they were when such programs were first offered: convenience and speed.
However, much of this may be changing. Recently, manufacturers of major word processors have begun to market their programs with extended claims. 6 They no longer claim increases only in ease, speed, and the quality of the document's appearance,