Do you write longhand or on a computer? How does this affect your writing process? I ran across a study with interesting results.
The researchers wanted to know how computer writing differed from pen and paper writing. They recruited university faculty and graduate students to write two reports, one on a computer and one on pen and paper. The participants were given background information for the reports (about a new system of bank charges and new company regulations) two days beforehand. When they came in for the experiment, they had three hours to write each report, and the researchers used keystroke tracking and video cameras to record their progress.
Here are some of their observations:
1. The computer writers took half as much time to write the first draft than pen and paper writers.
2. The computer writers wrote texts that were approximately 20% longer.
3. The computer writers had a more fragmented writing process than the pen and paper writers. They paused more, and more of their pauses were in the middle of a sentence (as opposed to sentence or paragraph boundaries). However, in the instances when pen and paper writers did pause, it was for a longer period of time than the computer writers.
4. Computer writers made 80% of the revisions in their first draft, as compared to pen and paper writers, who made only 50% of revisions in the first draft. Pen and paper writers tended to wait until a draft was complete and then revised systematically from beginning to end. Computer writers revised in smaller chunks throughout the writing process.
The authors observed that pen and paper writing seemed a more systematic and planned out process. This makes sense because it's harder to make a change on pencil and paper. With computer writing, you can just start writing and make changes as you go along.
After the researchers looked at average behavior of the entire group, they analyzed the writers as individuals. They classified the writers into different writing profiles, including nonstop writers who hardly revised at all, writers who revised more in their first draft, writers who revised more in their second draft, and initial planners who spent a lot of time planning up front but did little revising afterwards.
The researchers found that there was quite a lot of variability between writing styles, even within the same modality (computer/pen). The researchers also found that almost everybody changed their writing style when switching from pen to computer. The participants didn't all change their writing styles in the same way, but almost all of them did something different. This makes me think that it’s worth experimenting with yourself in different writing modalities, just to see how it affects you personally.
I kind of wish these researchers had to analyzed the final products to see if the modality affected the complexity of the sentence structure or the ideas presented. If anybody knows more about this, please let me know. And also, I wonder how the experiment would look for people using voice recognition software. :-)
Have you tried experimenting with different writing modalities? How has that worked for you? Which modality do you prefer?
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VANWAES, L., & SCHELLENS, P. (2003). Writing profiles: the effect of the writing mode on pausing and revision patterns of experienced writers Journal of Pragmatics, 35 (6), 829-853 DOI: 10.1016/S0378-2166(02)00121-2