The recent release of enhancements to Writing Reviser makes this an ideal time to revisit the purpose of our innovative tool, which is both significant and, I think, subtle. The tool aims to teach students how to write.
No one would argue that this is easy. It isn't. We’ve all seen writing programs that take the “easy” path—marking student errors, subjecting students to endless “drill and kill” worksheets, teaching them ultimately how not to write. Indeed, teaching them that writing is a punishment.
Our fundamental approach is unique.
Writing Reviser is designed to be instructional, to help students take advantage of missed opportunities and to provide teachers with a record of revisions.
The tool does not search for student mistakes. Instead, it offers feedback on what the student has written, providing students with a comprehensive framework for revising their own work. It alerts them to opportunities for enhancing expressiveness (e.g., varying sentence length, converting awkward nouns to forceful verbs), rather than simply correcting mistakes. We provide hyperlinked definitions of key terms and models of effective writing that clarify rhetorical and grammatical concepts. In short, Writing Reviser helps students think like experienced writers.
The new features underscore and bolster our approach.
The new additions support the instructional approach we’ve taken with Writing Reviser.
To cite one example, we now highlight words appearing more than once in a sentence or in two successive sentences.
Consider the following sentence, with its unnecessary repetition of the word people:
The American people have a government for the people, because the people need it.
Now look at the final 18 words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which also repeats people—but with great rhetorical power.
“--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Writing Reviser helps students by highlighting all cases of people in these sentences and asking the following questions:
- Have you repeated these words on purpose?
- Can you alter some of the words to improve sentence effectiveness and variety?
With the first sentence, a thoughtful writer would make a revision to eliminate unwanted word recurrence. With the second, no one would recommend that Lincoln alter a thing.
By allowing students to see what they have actually written in a way that would not be possible without the benefit of the tool, they can continue to make meaningful revisions—those that enable them write with greater precision and power.
And rather than simply correcting a mistake (that they may or may not have understood) to earn a slightly higher grade in their current paper, students develop skills and judgment that will inform all their subsequent work--in and out of school.
Isn't that the real aim of any writing course?