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Columnist Shortchanged Halio's Writing Research

September 02, 1990

I read Michael Schrage's article, "Quill or Computer? Makes No Difference" (Aug. 9), on research by Marcia Halio. I have read the original paper, and I think he gave her research an unfair airing.

First, Halio's subjects are composition students at a university. Schrage is a professional writer. The difference should be obvious to him. Halio's conclusion is based on the effects of different computers, software, or user interface on the work of novice writers. I don't think you can generally apply it to experienced writers.

Second, her conclusions are based on data. Schrage, on the other hand, can only offer opinions ("wouldn't it also make sense," "look at this pragmatically," "everyone. . . will confess," "the logic is simple"). You have to dispute facts with facts. Halio's research is by no means conclusive. But you cannot dismiss data with speculation.

Third, Schrage belittles her work as "pop research." Had he read the article carefully, he would know that it is far from pop research. Her data is based on well-controlled conditions. Students started out (at about the same level of) writing skills. They chose the Mac or the IBM sections. It may be true that those who are more sloppy chose to use the Mac. But only further research will tell. The study did not ignore this possibility as stated in the article. It simply was unable to reach a conclusion. A lack of data, however, did not deter Schrage from making conclusions.

A much more interesting point would be whether it is the software or the user interface that is making a difference.

PETER LAU

LaVerne

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