Investigating Technology’s Influence on Composition, the Long View

Hartley, James, Michael Howe, Wilbert McKeachie.  “Writing through Time: Longitudinal Studies of the Effects of New Technology on Writing.”  British Journal of Educational Technology 32.2 (2001): 141-151.  Academic Search Complete.  Web.  15 October 2010.
            Hartley et al address the question in this paper as to whether the changes in writing and thinking through changing technology usage merely “a cosmetic one…or are the changes more fundamental than this” (141).  The authors review literature produced in the final decade of the 20th century, and find the debate centers around the “three possibilities [Hartley (1993)] outlined” (142).  In order to discover which of the three were more probable, the authors took to a method to describe “pieces written by the same authors over lengthy periods using different technologies” (144).  The method of research involved a statement of writing methods, a selection of samples from a broad time period, and a quantitative analysis of these samples from each of the authors of the paper (144-45).  It should be noted that each of the authors is a university professor, that the authors are evaluating their own works, and finally that the selected writing samples were chosen from times after the authors attained university degrees.   

These faults may or may not influence their findings, but I am leaning toward the concern that each author had already set his writing style before the selected samples were written.

            In the results tables of the quantitative analysis, each author displays remarkable consistency over the course of the decades.  These findings are displayed in tables with variables including: average number of sentences, number of words per sentence, percentage of passive sentences, the Flesch Index score, and the Flesch-Kincaid grade-level score (146-48).  The authors find that although there are fluctuations within each individual sample (148), “the only measure that is perhaps time-related is the use of passive [constructions]” (149).  The authors continue, however, to attribute that change to the fourth edition of APA’s Publication Manual (1994), which encourages the use of active rather than passive verb constructions (149).
            Although the authors conclude that the changes they have made in technology usage in composition has not significantly influenced their writing styles (149), I again point to the issue with the methods used in this study.  These authors had significantly defined their writing styles prior to when the samples selected were composed, and I believe this is a significant shortcoming.  By evaluating developing writers, as well as writers who are constantly attempting to define themselves (i.e. – poets), I hope to show that there are significant differences between analogue and digital technologies in drafting.