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Word Processing Essay

Word Processing Technology and the Process of Writing

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Word Processing Technology and the Process of Writing


Word processors have been in use in our country and across the globe for quite some time. Elementary school students, High school Students, as well as College and University students all use them everyday to produce written texts from many different genres. Pens and paper have been forgotten. Has the formal process of writing also been forgotten? Have word processors changed the way people write – permanently (I misspelled that word and fixed it using spell check)?

The most recognized definition, if there is one, of a writing process was formulated by Flowers and Hayes in 1980. They were two of the first theorists to formally recognize that there are basically three distinct types of cognitive writing processes. The first is the process of planning. This is where the writer will decide what to say and exactly how to say it. The next step is the actual generation of written text. This process occurs when the writer uses their plan to produce an actual piece of writing. The last process in the Flowers and Hayes model is revision. This is where the writer makes all possible revisions to improve the quality of their written work. These three processes do not appear to happen in any specific order. There is no set pattern to follow. The order with which the writer engages in and completes each process, as well as the amount of time each writer spends performing each process, will vary depending upon the organization methods of the writer. The writer will look at their own individual goals and decide how to manipulate the various processes to best meet their agenda. Theoretically, these students could be moving their work forward in a purposeful direction by backtracking through a given process. This model enforced the idea that writing is a recursive process rather than a straightforward linear process incapable of being altered. The Flowers and Hayes model has often been referred to as the “writing process approach.” Of course there are many other credible models for the writing process, but this definition suits my purposes by providing a backdrop for discussing the changes made by word processors on a long accepted, though often debated, definition of the writing process (Barrow 13-18).

Word processors are good for storing data, manipulating and formatting individual characters which make up the text of a final written document, and improving the writing mechanics of student work as a whole.

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But do word processors change the overall process of writing? Depends who you ask, in 1993, Mueller and Kellogg said “their role in improving writing quality as distinct from supporting its mechanics is still open to debate” (Barrow 18). Others, like Markel, suggest that:

“writers appear to use a variety of internal representations while creating a document. During the initial stages these representations are fluid, becoming increasingly constrained as the document approaches completion. The computer can help the writer to capture these possibly fleeting internal conceptualizations through various representations such as networks, hierarchies, grids or text. Once captured on a computer, these representations can be stored, manipulated and transformed as writing progresses, augmenting the writer’s internal cognitive capacity. In this way, the writing process becomes more visible (Barrow 18).

Even this, too me, seems like a matter of presentation and mechanics. The actual writing process is little affected by changes like this. “Instruction is one of the important topics in educational reform. Most teachers will find little incentive to use technology as instructional tools unless enough information is reported to support the fact that using technology can make instruction more effective” (Lu and Molstad 158). The process of writing, at least by this measure, must still be left to the teachers of English and not computer programs. Teachers will not be likely to teach the writing process as something capable of being effectively changed by computer technology unless more clear evidence is available.

Educators need to see that computers will not be used for unrelated tasks, like music and game. Computers are often endorsed as tool to improve student writing holistically. Word processors can change the quality of student work, is the promise. That may be true, but will the writing process of students also be improved, or at least changed? In 1994, Tompkins and Snyder, performed some research in order to test their belief that “students can experiment with writing and easily correct errors, thus encouraging risk taking and problem solving” (Beck and Fetherston 142). Again this statement points to an improvement in the overall quality of a finished product. but not of an alteration to a writing process. Their findings showed that students have the potential capability of improving their writing by thinking out loud as they are formulating a text, students can also look deeper into the choices they make when constructing sentences by giving themselves additional time to form proper sentences, better articulate their ideas, and hopefully improve their word choice throughout their writing. Students are now able to move back and forth within a text with relative ease. Weren’t they able to do that with pen and paper? A little more frustrating and time consuming perhaps, but possible. Maybe if students were neglecting to go back into their texts because of these reasons mentioned above then their process could be changed a little if they are adding a component that they otherwise would have not. But I still don’t see that as a monumental change in the writing process. (Beck and Fetherston 141-44; Snyder and Tompkins 1994).

So taking all these things into consideration it is clear that the word processor can quite possibly motivate students to write by making it easier for them to perform some of the frustrating components of writing that would have otherwise turned them off. Computers also help improve the student’s editing habits. Spellcheckers and grammar checkers can certainly make a student feel secure because they know if they mess up the checkers will fix everything for them. Although I think this is more true with beginning writers as opposed to advanced writers who know better than to rely on flawed word processing components such as spell checkers and grammar checkers. Do experienced writers use them? I think this is an interesting question. I do, if that means anything top my research. And yes. Many times I find myself relying on them to correct my spelling. But in that case I already know I am not sure how to spell the word correctly so I am already looking for help. Many beginning writers may not be able to use the spell check in this way. So maybe my thoughts were relevant after all (Beck and Fetherston 141-44).

Tompkins goes on to say that word processors encourage students to take risks because they know anything they write can easily be discarded without anyone ever seeing this, thus eliminating the possibility of ridicule or having their ideas be rejected. Students then begin to experiment with bigger things like “sentence structures, word choices, and text organization” (Beck and Fetherston 142). Just as an interesting side note. When I typed the word “organization” my research article had the word spelled “organisation” but when I tried to spell it that way the grammar check changed it automatically. Even now that I went back and changed it with the cursor, there is a little red squiggly underneath it. I guess the question is, did that change my writing process? Word processors are designed as a tool to make it easier for us as writers to get things right. I still doubt this changes the process. No, I take that back. With elementary students and beginning writers it just well may. If the things word processors can do for them become instilled in them unconsciously than that aspect of their writing will ultimately change and hopefully improve because of that. So word processors encourage writers to revise. Change in process. Word processors also make writers to view their work as temporary, thus giving them license to alter the text and make revisions as they go along. Something they may not have done with a paper and a pencil. Another change in process. Okay, I buy that. Word processors may also boost the writer’s moral. Seeing a crisp, polished, final product can do wonders for a writer’s ego, especially a younger one, but even with experienced writers. I like to see my finished product look good. Knowing that it will doesn’t change my process in writing it though (Beck and Fetherston 143).

Another interesting aspect of writing that may be changed by word processing is reflection. Reflection is not a part of the writing process of Flowers and Hayes but more and more modern models of the writing process include a reflective analysis component. In a study completed in 1998, researchers looked at Community College students and how they used word processors. Students at the Community College commented on many features of the word processors that made writing easier, such as spelling and grammar checkers and cut-and-paste. One student felt that “because it is easier for me to change what I had written on computers, I was more willing to re-examine my work and make changes to it” (Hansman and Wilson 33). Is she saying that the ease with which she was able to make changes to her work once it was up on screen provided her with the incentive to reflect on her own work and make revisions to the writing after taking her reflections into consideration. Word processors may give students the opportunity to instantly reflect on what is written. Pen and paper can also give you that same luxury I suppose. Just put the pencil or pen down and take a look at what you got. Word processors catering to self admitting lazy students should not justify acknowledging a legitimate change in overall process. But that isn’t my call to make, and speaking theoretically for a minute, does something have to be recognized and confirmed by someone else in order for it to be considered a real change in process? If I say that a particular aspect of word processors made me change my individual process, isn’t that good enough? If at least one student’s writing process was altered significantly does that constitute a recognized change? Maybe. I guess what I’m asking is who has to call it a change in the process of writing in order for it to be a real change in the process of writing? But that is an entirely different debate, but indeed one that is relevant to my research discussion (Hansman and Wilson 21-42).

Other students at the Community College admitted that because it was so easy to add to and take away from what was on the screen they actually cut out a significant portion of their prewriting that they would have otherwise completed. Students said that their prewriting activity was not nearly as structured as it would have been had they not used word processors. This is something that I know from experience. My former prewriting activity was usually a web cluster. I always found then to be very effective. You could link all your thoughts and ideas and make them easily recognizable when it was time to switch from topic to topic. This is especially true in speech writing. I found them much more effective than note cards. Now all that has changed. Like the students in this study, I just begin my writing by throwing any old thing up on screen. I call it the skeletal process of prewriting. I just type in the bones and fill in all the blood and guts later in. This is exactly what these students are talking about. Word processors may not put an end to prewriting, but they certainly change the way in which it is done. Word processors make the whole sequence of prewriting and revision different. They change the dynamic of it. This is a legitimate change in the overall writing process. Additional factors also influenced how these students negotiated between prewriting and revising. Such things as peer response, instructor feedback, amount of time spent on the paper and the ability to save what was written. These things seem to lead to a more disorganized form of revision. One that is not based on sitting back with a text you have written and figure out what changes need to be made and how best to make them. Word processors have caused students to revise on demand. When a student gives you feedback, no problem, just change the text. When an instructor makes a suggestion, same thing. Instant revision makes the process a lot less formal (Hansman and Wilson 21-42).

The biggest lesson to be learned from the Community College students in this study is that word processors have somehow changed the writing process in such a way that the process has no chance of ever being seen as linear. Everything about the use of computers and word processing is recursive. Prewriting, writing, revising, reflecting are all done whenever and however the writer sees fit at the time they are producing the text. The writing process has seldom been seen in this light before. Even liberal advocates of a recursive writing process model doubtfully imagined that word processors were capable of turning their recursive process into more of a muddle. Do what you want when you want it, how you want it. There are no limits, no rules, no guidelines. That is what these students taught the researchers (Hansman and Wilson 21-42).

Like everything else there is still al ot of negative things to say about word processors being used so freely. Todd Oppenheimer conducted a study at a Montessori school where computers were being used as writing tools, much to the dissatisfaction of teachers and faculty. Their biggest complaint was that word processors only taught students to write flat. They blamed the ability to revise instantly as the cause of why student papers lacked depth. Students didn’t stop what they were doing long enough to take a quality reflective look or to do any quality revision. I think this can be very true with younger and inexperienced writers. Students neglect to take the time necessary to link ideas within their own writing. They become overwhelmed by the fast paced feeling of a word processor and their writing suffers for it tremendously. Oppenheimer goes on to say “We will be well into the 21st century before we see whether technology is a step forward or a step backward. Whether its really positive or a reinforcement of the worst inertias in our culture. If so, we’ve put an awful lot of capital behind making bad decisions” (Dunn 34) There is no doubt that there is plenty of dangers behind using word processors, or at least using them without considering the negative implications or the bad decisions they could be forcing students to make in a split second notice. Maybe word processors are taking away writers ability to slow down and enjoy what is going on in the world around them (Dunn 34-36).

Overall, word processors are a tool with the ability to significantly alter the writing process for beginning as well as experienced writers. And word processors certainly change the way in which word processing is taught. But maybe there is something to what Oppenheimer said, maybe its going to take a long time before any of us really know for sure.



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Technology allows our communities to move and think faster. Reflective of our society, the Internet and related software have excelled the speed of writing too. True, the written word is at the top of its popularity thus far in history, as the latest technologies still require words. In the twenty-first century, people on average write more than ever before. Reading Web sites, writing emails, and surfing the Web are all technological customs found in everyday life for those with computer access. The last twenty years have revolutionized writing practices and to tell you the truth, I’d label the keyboard as my writing utensil of choice.

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Are educators programmed in the same fashion? Do schools exist as mere training for economic production? More important, is it peculiar the premier word-processing software for secondary education students, academic instructors and corporate professionals is indeed the same product? I find it hard to believe that business software fits the needs of high-school students adequately. A call to action for teachers employed at the secondary level is essential to lobby for the creation of more practical word-processing software, which could enhance basic writing comprehension.

Let's face it; advertising is as American as apple pie. At present, we’re programmed incorrectly by marketing campaigns to believe that SUV vehicles can champion almost any weather condition. Jeep's trademark commercial includes the Grand Cherokee driving up a mountain. In the same respect, via perception, students are led to believe that computer software can transform writing into perfectly constructed essays by clicking a few commands. Grammar, spelling and text editing are common features in any word-processing program and I've never seen a disclosure warning users about product limitations.

Historically, word processors were developed with businesses in mind. Somehow, in a rush to support the Clinton campaign to give a child in every school a computer, educators didn't drive a demand

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