COMPUTERS and COMPOSITION 8(1), November 1990, pages 95-98

Software Review

Reviewed by Robert Boston

The first thing I noticed about COLLABORATIVE WRITER is that it doesn't look like a Macintosh program. All the file names on the two 31/2" floppies have telltale underscores between words rather than spaces. The application file itself is called "Collaborative Writer."

I should say "the application files," for each of the two 800K disks includes a file named "Collaborative Writer." In addition, each disk contains a "CW Help" file and a folder named "Screens." Because my Mac has only one floppy drive, I copied the contents of both disks to one of my hard drives before investigating further.

After putting the files and folders on my hard disk, I could see the reason for splitting the program into two floppies: The complete "Screens" folder contains over 900K of information--more than a single 800K Mac disk can hold. For the same reason, the two COLLABORATIVE WRITER applications are not identical. Each is configured to read only the "Screens" files on its own disk.

Program Features

COLLABORATIVE WRITER comprises three main components.

The Tutorial section is the heart of the program. After pulling down "Tutorial" in the Menu bar, students can select the type of document they are going to write. The Menu bar then shows menus titled "Plan," "Draft," "Revise," and "Package," and pulling down a menu reveals more specific choices. For example, under "Plan," the students find "Purpose," "Audience," and "Content."

The "Screens" then presented are specific to the type of document originally chosen. "Purpose" for a proposal, for example, is quite different from "Purpose" for a formal report. And "Audience" in each type of document leads the students through an analysis of the audiences that will probably be reading the particular kind of document originally specified.

As students read the guidelines they can use a separate window to write notes in response to checklist questions, and they can save the notes as files to be read, edited, and printed for distribution to all members of the group. These notes become the working papers for the group's project.

Although COLLABORATIVE WRITER's text editor has very limited capabilities, the students can draft documents with the text editor, save those documents as text files, and then load them into full featured word processing packages to be formatted and printed.

Deficiencies in the Program

Program Advantages


As I re-read this review, I see that I've devoted a lot of space to deficiencies in COLLABORATIVE WRITER. That proportion is misleading, for I think that the program can be a valuable teaching tool . We have access to very few computer applications that attempt to lead our students through all stages of the writing process, and fewer still that provide such sound bases for planning, composing, revising, and formatting business and technical writing documents.

The primary deficiency of COLLABORATIVE WRITER is that the programmers and program designers did not use all the capabilities of their chosen medium. Although this program would be normal fare on an Apple II or an MS-DOS computer, the Macintosh can do much more than they ask it to do. For example, instead of providing a crippled text editor, why not include a network communication feature? Instead of using MACPAINT bitmaps in the "Screens" folder, why not use scrolling text files that could be customized by teachers and printed by students? Or, having chosen to work with individual "Screens" files, why not use the flexibility of HYPERCARD instead of reinventing the wheel by writing a new program to present material in a less effective format?

To use COLLABORATIVE WRITER's own terms, I'd say that the purpose is excellent, the content is excellent, but the writers have missed slightly in audience analysis, structure, and style. The program can be an effective teaching tool as it is now, but I'm sure that the writers can make future versions even more powerful.

Robert Boston teaches in the English Department of Iowa State University.


I'll be glad to E-Mail a copy of the RESEDIT procedure to anyone. My Bitnet address is S2.RSB@ISUMVS

COLLABORATIVE WRITER; $249.00 per lab; system: Macintosh.