The Effect of the Word Processor and the Style Checker on Revision in Technical Writing: What Do We Know, and What Do We Need to Find Out?

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This article surveys and critiques the literature on using style checkers and the text-editing capabilities of the computer to assist in revising technical writing. The literature on text-editing capabilities is inconclusive because it is largely anecdotal and methodologically flawed. The literature on style checkers is similarly inconclusive. To better assess the value of the computer, we need to examine the basic premise of the research on revising and word processing: that more revising leads to higher-quality writing. We need to be sure that our evaluative techniques for measuring writing improvement are valid; to focus our attention not only on computer novices but also on computer-experienced writers; to examine other factors that affect how writers use word processing and that in turn might affect writing quality; and to examine more carefully the differences among word processors and among the different style checkers to determine their effects on writing behavior and writing quality.