8(2), April 1991, pages 79-80

Software Review


C. J. Wallia

WRITER'S HELPER (WH) sounds like the name of a modest word-processing program--what with other programs with names like WORDSTAR, WORD PERFECT, and TOTAL WORD. But, in fact, WH is not a word-processing program; it's meant for use with other word-processing programs.

WH is a collection of programs (IBM PC, Macintosh, and Apple II versions) designed to help writers plan, write, and revise. It also is a winner of Educom's award as the best writing software. Although WH's high-quality manual focuses on classroom use, individual writers can also easily learn from it.

WH's planning or pre-writing programs consist of activities that can help the writer find, explore, and organize the writing topic. Included among the Find and the Explore activities are brainstorming, random revelations, and audience analysis. Included among the Organize activities are creating a tree outline (clustering thoughts about a subject into categories and arranging the categories into a tree), formulating goals, creating an outline, and developing a paragraph.

WH's revising tools guide the writer in finding structural and stylistic problems. For example, the overall structure can be checked by using WH's Outline Document command which will list the first sentence of each paragraph. The Paragraph Coherence command will display the first and last sentence of each paragraph. Other commands include: Paragraph Development (displays the number of words and sentence in each paragraph), List by Sentence, and Sentence Length.

In addition to providing the readability level (by using the Fogg Index), WH offers you counts of standard transition words, prepositions, and "to be" verbs. The manual discusses the significance of each of these measures.

Finally, WH provides checks for commonly confused homonyms (such as its and it's, principal and principle) and common infelicities (such as "reason is because", "due to the fact that"). These initial lists can be customized.

In addition to all of the above features of the IBM PC and Apple II versions, the Macintosh version has the Notebook feature, which automatically prepares a table of contents of all of the activities completed in a particular work session or project.

Unlike RIGHTWRITER, GRAMMATIK, or CORRECT GRAMMAR, WH does not attempt to correct grammar or punctuation errors. In short, WRITER'S HELPER can serve as a first-rate instructional tool for teachers of writing.

C. J. Wallia teaches at Vista Community College in Berkeley, CA.

WRITER'S HELPER (IBM PC, Macintosh, Apple II); $125; Systems requirements: single stand-alone computer.