Green Squiggly Lines:

Writing Without Fear circa 1982: Word Processing

During the early 1980s, teacher-researchers began to tease out the implications of commercial word processors for the writing classroom. The two major adjustments to students' composing processes that scholars noted were:

  1. The potential of a freer initial composing process and
  2. An easier, and hence more thorough, revision.

Exemplifying the attitudes of these studies, William Zinsser (1983) wrote that word processors would "greatly help people to clean up their sentences by focusing their mind on the act of writing and revising" (p. 23). In "The Computer as Stylus and Audience," Colette A. Daiute (1983) argued that both physical and psychological factors affect students' willingness to revise. According to Daiute "tedious recopying" and "limitation[s] on short-term memory" interfere with the "complex mental activities of composing and revising" (p. 134). In her pitch for using word processors, Daiute argued that "the text editor enables writers to compose more quickly and freely because all changes they make in a text are automatically incorporated" (p. 134). While this claim-using a word processor students do not have to retype an entire paper when they revise it-may seem facile today, we should remember that recopying text, retyping text was not a trivial act-it took time and this time discouraged many students from engaging in thorough revisions. Process proponents, however, saw effective writing as the result of an extended revision process. This claim was based on much of the ethnographic work that composition scholars were beginning to undertake in the wake of Janet Emig's discovery (1971) that students who did well on essays tended to spend more time revising their work than students who got poor grades. Coupled with her research into the composing processes of literary writers based on interviews in the Paris Review and biographies, Emig and other proponents of a process approach to teaching writing argued that experienced writers revised dramatically from one draft to the next. If a teacher were to encourage a student to develop from an inexperienced writer into an experienced one, that student would have to be lead through a sequence of revising activities. Word processors were tools for easing the physical labor associated with revising, and hence their use could be advocated for based not only on technical grounds but on pedagogical grounds as well.