1(1), November 1983, page 2


ed. William Wresch
University of Wisconsin Center-Marinette

Two years ago it became apparent to a number of us that the next area of computer-assisted instruction to take off would be computer-assisted writing instruction. Up to 1980 or so very little work had been done in the area, but then Hugh Burns at the Air Force Academy and Michael Cohen at UCLA began their pioneering efforts and suddenly colleges all across the country began trying to see what they could do.

In order to describe the major efforts which were underway, and to provide a guide for those teachers who might want to use or design computer-assisted writing programs, roughly a dozen of us who were working in the field decided to put together a book. The result is A WRITER'S TOOL.

WRITER'S TOOL has five major sections. The first is an introduction which describes the history of computer-assisted writing and summarizes the approaches which seem most promising.

The next section of the book describes four of the major pre-writing projects underway. Hugh Burns describes both "first and second generation" pre-writing programs with an honest and humorous appraisal of the first generation and some projections of what will come next in the "second generation." Dawn and Ray Rodrigues describe their work at New Mexico State and make a plea for computer activities which respond to the varying needs of students and which acknowledge the illogical as well as logical processes involved in pre-writing. Next Helen Schwartz of Oakland University describes her program for helping students write about literature, and also describes some creative uses of electronic mail. In the last chapter in this section I describe my Essay Writer program and its use within a system that includes other pre-writing programs, a word processor, and a stylistic analyzer.

The mid section of the book describes three editing and grammar programs. This section begins with a chapter by Kate Kiefer and Charles Smith in which they go into detail about the nature and use of the WRITER'S WORKBENCH programs. I consider their description, of how the use of such programs affects the direction and content of typical composition classes, one of the highlights of the book. In the next chapter Michael Cohen describes the HOMER program of UCLA and gives examples of its use and benefits as a stylistic analyzer. Lastly Mike Southwell describes the issues and programs involved in using the computer as a remedial tool in grammar instruction.

The longest section of the book describes six efforts in evaluating or creating word processing or word pocessing based systems. Lillian Bridwell and Donald Ross begin the section with a chapter which explores all the research which has been done on word processing and describes their approach to these programs. This is a good chapter for anyone new to word processors to use as a starting point--it is thorough, concise, and very honest. Stephen Marcus of UC-Santa Barbara writes the next chapter on creative ways word processors can be used as an instructional tool and explores some of the issues their widespread use involves. Colette Daiute of Harvard University follows with a very insightful chapter explaining how word processors seem to affect the writing approaches of younger writers. In the next chapter Ruth Von Blum and Michael Cohen explain a new approach to computer-assisted writing in which a word processor is combined with pre- and post-writing programs so that students can move back and forth through the various stages. On the writing process, Cindy Selfe of Michigan Tech, who has been working on such a system for several years, describes her approach to this problem next, followed by Chris Neuwirth of Carnegie-Mellon.

The last section of the book is a glossary of terms related to the computer-assisted writing, an annotated bibliography of major articles in the field, and an index. With these three we hoped this last section would help the book serve as a continuing reference tool.

All combined, the book is a rather substantial work totaling nearly 400

COMPUTERS and COMPOSITION 1(1), November 1983, page 3

manuscript pages, all intended to give readers a clear sense of what is currently being done, why authors took the approach they did, how such programs affect classroom instruction, and what early evaluations reveal about their instructional efficacy. It is our hope that having such information available will make it easier for our colleagues to try various computer-assisted writing programs and plan for their effective use, or to design programs of their own based on the models the book provides.

A WRITER'S TOOL will be published in June. --W. Wresch