Visible and Hidden Transcripts: Word Domination and Paths to Resistance




Claire's story

Clippie and friends

Word dominance

The public transcript

Transcript traces

Ideology saturation

Through thick and thin

Paths of resistance

Assignment Possibilities





Assignment Possibilities

Analysis of Word's rhetoric forms the foundation for the suggested assignments below. For the first-year composition class, I list a sequence of assignments leading to three possible writing projects. For a technical writing class, I propose an assignment linking audience analysis to usability testing.

For a First-Year Composition Class - click here.

For a Technical Writing Class - click here.


For a First-Year Composition Course

Group Exercise 1

Select one group member as recorder.  Then, create a list of all the things the word processor, Microsoft Word does.

Note for instructors:  Students fazed by such an open prompt can be encouraged to think about what Word can do as they write and revise, with examples such as “underline spelling errors” and “make words bold.”

Class Exercise

Synthesize the lists into one.  Ask students to examine the list and figure out what Microsoft Word doesn’t do.  Create a list on your course management site, smartboard, or a transparency from student responses.  Every student should be able to access this list as they develop their written assignments.

Written prompt

Considering what we’ve decided Microsoft Word does and doesn’t do, draw conclusions about what this software program’s designers consider to be valuable in writing. What would you like to know more about in order to understand the designers’ choices about how Word was designed.  (Students may work individually or in groups.)

Here are two examples:

Word’s word counter suggests that knowing how many words are in your document is valuable.  It’s possible to infer that the more words you have, the better your document is.  But that could be a stretch.  I wonder why knowing how many words are in your document matters – where does that value come from?

Word’s Project Gallery is all about projects that help you organize yourself:  lists, budgets, calendars, etc.  I conclude that being very organized and using Word to make up lists is valuable according to the designers.  Why is being organized such an important value to Word’s designers?  Why do they think we should be so organized?

Follow-up Projects

Choose one of the following assignments and write a four to five page, researched response to the inquiry questions.

Project 1

Microsoft Word, the standard word processor, was designed primarily for office and business writers.  After researching and describing the history of the word processor, develop a proposal for a word processor designed primarily for one of the following groups:

Poets                            Artists                          Comics
Musicians                     Mathematicians
Engineers                     Architects
Group of your own choosing

(But clear alternate choices with your instructor first!)

Project 2

Search the Internet for at least three alternative word processors, to Microsoft Word.  When possible, download them to your computer and experiment with them; however, you may read about them instead.  Write an analysis of the perceived weaknesses of Microsoft Word by these alternative word processors in which you not only describe the differences but draw conclusions about the different ways these programs acknowledge and define the process of writing.  Do the alternative word processors accept Microsoft’s Word’s conceptions of writing?  If so, what critique are they missing?  If not, what is the significance of the differences you see?

Project 3

Follow the link below to a critique of wordprocessing. Analyze and evaluate this critique. Where has the author got it right? What's missing from the author's evaluation? Write three to four pages.


For a Technical Writing Class

Following the guidelines for usability testing, examine MIcrosoft Word and write a report describing how well Word meets usuability guidelines for two of the following audiences. Select one audience from each group.

Group 1: civil engineers, meteorologists, chemical engineers

Group 2: graphic designers, English instructors, musicians

Your report's conclusion should consist of a recommendation about the usability of Microsoft Word for each designated audience.