3.999 the quality of writing: IBM vs Mac (46)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Fri, 2 Feb 90 20:41:02 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 999. Friday, 2 Feb 1990.

Date: Thu, 1 Feb 90 19:12:32 EST
From: unhd!psc90!jdg@uunet.UU.NET (Dr. Joel Goldfield)
Subject: "Student writing in the MS-DOS vs. Mac environment"

A curious and troubling article has just appeared in _Academic Computing_,
Jan. 1990, pp. 16-19 & 45. I quote one passage dealing with the results
of 20 essays run through the _Writer's Workbench Text Analysis_ programs
on a VAX mainframe by the author, Marcia Peoples Halio:

The Mac students were writing far fewer complex sentences than the
IBMers (30 percent compared to 49.5 percent). They were also using
many more "to be" verbs (32 percent compared to 23 percent), a sign
according to composition theorists of weak and lifeless prose.
Readability scores (as judged by the Kincaid scale) averaged 12.1
(college level) for the IBM students, but the Mac users obtained
a score of only 7.95 (slightly less than 8th grade). Closely
tied to the readability scores was the measure of sentence length:
an average of 16.3 words for the Mac students and 22.6 for the
IBM students. And the Mac students -- much more than the IBM
students -- used the subject of their sentences as the sentence
opener (80 percent Mac; 66.5 percent IBM). Teachers know that
weak writers generally rely on subject openers, while more
sophisticated writers employ more varied openers .... Finally,
the Mac students were noticeably poorer proofreaders than the
IBMers, averaging fifteen mispellings per essay, compared to
four for the IBMers. ["Student Writing: Can the Machine Maim
the Message," p. 18.]

The results for perhaps 1,000 students in English Comp. at the U. of
Delaware were dramatically different depending upon their use of an IBM
or Mac microcomputer. I'd be interested in reading what my colleagues
think after digesting the whole article.

Joel D. Goldfield
Plymouth State College (NH)
BITNET: joelg@psc