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Word Processing in the Writing Class: Tutorials Can Help Break the Ice

Craig Waddell

A complex program such as the popular word-processing package WORDSTAR is sold with its own dishearteningly thick, and sometimes dishearteningly opaque, manual. Even a motivated writer or secretary will need a month or more to absorb that material.

Consumer Reports
September 1983

Having taught both writing and word processing in the past, I knew that there could be trouble when I decided to incorporate word processing into my writing course. On one hand, word processing takes so much of the drudgery out of editing, revising, and retyping that writing teachers do a disservice to their students if they fail to acquaint them with at least one of these programs. On the other hand, a writing course is a writing course--not a word-processing course. And, as the above quotation suggests, learning to use a word-processing program effectively can take weeks.

Consequently, when I decided to introduce my students to word processing, I also decided to

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design a tutorial that would avoid some of the pitfalls of the "dishearteningly thick, and sometimes dishearteningly opaque," manuals. In fact, in the absence of a tutorial, computer novices in the class would need to struggle through (at least in part) not one, but perhaps half a dozen manuals--manuals for the program, the microcomputer, the operating system, the printer, and (if they wish to interface with it) the mainframe computer. When I wrote a tutorial for my students, I tried to compile the information they would need from all of these manuals in order to get started with word processing. I was particularly concerned with providing students the basic subset of commands they would need to compose a typical college essay. I knew that after they had gained skill and confidence from the tutorial, they could refer to more specialized manuals for more advanced commands.

After trying several different approaches, I found that it was best to give students a brief oral introduction to the software and the hardware and then let them work independently through a written tutorial. I stayed in the microlab to answer questions, but I found that trying to talk students through the tutorial was confusing, intrusive, and just plain unnecessary. After two one-hour sessions with the tutorial, most students were feeling relatively comfortable with the program.

The following tutorial has gone through several revisions, thanks largely to the helpful advice and criticism of my students. The word-processing software I chose to use was version 2.3 of Quicksoft's PC-WRITE (Waddell, 1985). We

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were using IBM PCs with DOS 2.1 and IBM dot-matrix printers. If you're PC-WRITE, you may be able to adopt must of this tutorial wholesale--changing only the parts that are specific to RPI to make them appropriate to your own school. If you're writing a tutorial for some other word-processing software, you might be able to use this tutorial as a model.

Finally, notice that the tutorial does not start entirely from scratch. As the introductory paragraph explains, the tutorial assumes that the instructor has already explained how to use the distribution disk (which contains all of the original PC-WRITE files) to make a work disk (which contains only the files you want).


This tutorial is designed to introduce you to using PC-WRITE at RPI. Throughout the tutorial, I assume that you have a disk in drive A which includes your PC-WRITE files as well as the terminal programs from the Disk Operating System (DOS): FORMAT.COM, COMMAND.COM, CHKDSK.COM, DISKCOPY.COM, and SYS.COM. (A terminal-emulating program is a program that allows a microcomputer to function as a terminal for a mainframe.) Having all of these programs on a single disk saves you the trouble of turning in your ID card for a Trinket/DOS disk each time you come into the microlab. It also saves you the trouble of making frequent disk changes. I also assume that you are creating your working files on a separate disk in drive B.

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1. Disk and PC care and precautions:

  1. Don't touch the exposed portion of the disk.
  2. Don't bend the disk.
  3. Keep the disk away from magnets.
  4. Don't expose the disk to temperatures below 50 or above 126 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Use a felt-tipped pen to mark disk labels.
  6. Don't use the keyboard, open the drive door, or remove the disk when the disk drive is in use (that is, when the disk drive in-use light is on).
  7. Always remove the disk before shutting the computer off.
  8. Keep food (especially fluids) away from both the computer and your disks.

2. Formatting a new working disk:

  1. Insert your PC-WRITE disk in drive A (left-hand drive) with the label up and out, and close the door. (Note that the PCs in the Sage microlab are sitting on what would ordinarily be their left-hand side; hence, drive A is actuall y beneath, rather than to the left of, drive B.)

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  2. Turn the computer on.
  3. Hit the RETURN key in response to date and time requests.
  4. At A-prompt (A>), type FORMAT B:, press the RETURN key, and follow the on-screen instructions. (Note: The source disk is the disk you are copying from--your PC-WRITE disk--the target disk is the disk you are copying to--the bl ank disk you are about to format.)

Note: When you're formatting a disk for a program (such as PC-WRITE), it's a good idea to add /s to the format command (format/s). This puts part of the disk operating system (DOS) on your program disk and, thus, allows you to use that program without first loading the operating system from a separate disk. When you're formatting a disk that will contain only document files, however, the /s option is essentially a waste of disk space.

3. Loading your disks:

  1. Insert your program disk (PC-WRITE) in drive A with the label up and out, and close the door.
  2. Insert your formatted working disk in drive A, and close the door.
  3. Turn the computer on, and wait for the DOS date and time requests to appear. Press the RETURN key in response to

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    these two requests (unless you want to register the time and date when you created or edited your file).
  4. At the A-prompt (A>), type ED B:filename (that is, ED [for edit], B:, and the name of the file you want to create or edit), and press RETURN. A filename is composed of from one to eight letters and/or digits and may have an optional extension/type consisting of a period followed by one to three letters and/or digits; for example, PCWRT.INT.

Note: If you choose to do so, you can create files directly on your PC-WRITE program disk (in drive A) by responding to the A-prompt with ED and the filename. If you choose this option, be sure you do not have a write-protect tab on your PC-WRITE disk.

  1. If this is a new file, the first thing you'll see will be a message at the top of the screen:

    New File. Press Esc to cancel, or F1 to create "file."

    Follow the on-screen instructions; that is, either press the Escape key to cancel or press Function Key 1 to create a file with the name you assigned in step d.

  2. If the file you've requested is not a new file, the first message you'll see will be:

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    Press Esc to start, or F1 to first write backup "fil$"

    Again, follow the on-screen instructions: either press Function Key 1 to make a backup copy of your file before you edit it, or press the Escape key to begin editing without creating a backup copy. (Note: The $ indicates that a file is a backup file. In order to delete a backup file, you must first rename it. Both of these operations [renaming and deleting files] are carried out with DOS commands.)

4. Creating and editing a document:

  1. When you begin to create or edit your file, the message line at the top of your screen will look something like this:

    F1 help. Push JustOff. 99% Free. 00% Thru. Read "file."

    This message tells you to press F1 to see the help menu, that you are in the "Pushright" (insert) as opposed to the "Overwrite" mode, that your right-justification is off, that 99% of your internal memory is free, that you are 00% through the text you are editing, that what you are reading on the screen (hence, what is in the computer's memory) is exactly what is on

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    your disk (as soon as you make any changes, READ will change to EDIT), and that the name of the file you are editing is "file."

  2. You can operate in either the PUSHRIGHT (insert) or the OVERWRITE mode. From the PUSHRIGHT mode, you edit by deleting and inserting; from the OVERWRITE mode, you edit by writing over (thus, replacing) previous copy. The Scroll Lock key (ScrLock) acts as a toggle switch to move you back and forth between these two modes.

  3. Enter the text of your document much as your would on a typewriter (except that word wrap makes it unnecessary to press the RETURN key at the end of a line unless you want to insert a blank line or start a new paragraph). Use cursor movement and delete commands to edit as you write:

    CURSOR-CONTROL ARROWS (on the numeric keypad to the right of the main keyboard) move the cursor, character by character, in the direction indicated.

    The CONTROL KEY with the LEFT and RIGHT ARROWS moves the cursor a word at a time.

    The HOME KEY moves the cursor to the left margin.

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    The END KEY moves the cursor to the right margin.

    The PAGE-UP and PAGE-DOWN KEYS scroll the text up or down one line at a time.

    The SHIFT KEY with the PAGE-UP and PAGE-DOWN KEYS scrolls the text up or down a screenful at a time.

    The BACKSPACE KEY deletes the character to the left.

    The DELETE KEY deletes the character to the right.

    The CONTROL KEY with the ESCAPE KEY deletes the word to the right.

    The CONTROL KEY with the BACKSPACE KEY deletes the word to the left.

    The CONTROL KEY with the ENTER KEY deletes to the end of the line.

Note: .M:2 is PC-WRITE printer-control command for double-spacing. The dot (.) must be the first character on the line, and the rest of the line following this command should be blank. The command to return to single-spacing is .M:1. To create page breaks, use the dot command .L:# at the beginning of your file (where # is the desired number of lines per page). The standard typed page has 55 lines; with double-spacing, half of these lines will be blank.

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  1. Use the on-screen help menu (via F1) to remind yourself of the basic commands for cursor movements, scrolling, deletions, etc. Notice that some of the commands require holding the first key down while pressing the second key in the sequence. Notice also that the caret (^) is the symbol for the Control Key; * is the symbol for the Shift Key; @ is the symbol for the Alt Key; and + is the symbol for the Control, Shift, or Alt Key when used in conjunction with a function key. You can reach other help menus from the main help menu by pushing the cursor-control arrows on the numeric keypad to the right of the main keyboard. You can get a printout of the help menu (or anything else on your screen) by holding down the Shift and pressing the Print-Screen key.


Waddell, C. (1985). PC-WRITE: Quality word processing at a price that's hard to beat. Computers and Composition, 2(4), 77-83.

Craig Waddell teaches at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York,
in the Department of Language, Literature, and Communication