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




Teachers are, actually, in the business of developing literacies – and doing so means rigorous attention to how we define, construct, and mold those literacies. We are, in turn, constructed by them. That is, pedaogical style, choice, and content form and are formed by literacies.

Within Microsoft Word’s world view then, the software itself requires homogeneity and hierarchy.  For example, Word’s grammar checker also checks for acceptable writing style.  It looks for “nonstandard words” – a phrase like “angry at” or a word like “ain’t” and asks the writer to eliminate them. Here, the software privileges mainstream discourse built on rules written by the elite.  There is no room for anything other than Word’s take on  mainstream discourse.

Word’s grammar checker also seeks out pronouns such as “I” and “me” because they “..shouldn’t be used in scientific or technical writing.”  This suggests that scientific and technical writing matter enough to merit specific reference.  Moreover, because references to other rhetorical purposes are absent, what is the writer to make of their importance?  Word here defines literacy on its own terms.

Interestingly, despite all claims for newness and power, language itself is assumed to be neutral.  It has one purpose: to ensure the task is accomplished efficiently.   Efficiency is easily quantifiable for to “exchange and use data” is its highest form. Microsoft’s language highlights productivity.  This language is curiously humanless:  there are no individuals with goals other than success in the marketplace. The assumption that production is our goal contrasts sharply with the Freirian emphasis on transformation.  Where critical pedagogy sees transformation as humanity’s ontological purpose, Word sees speed, data transfer, and efficiency.

Brazilian literacy educator and activist, Paulo Freire (2000) argues that process is key to education and calls for critical thinking:  “..thinking which perceives reality as a process, a transformation, rather than as a static entity” ( p. 92).  This work happens through problem-posing education.  Students name, reflect on, and act upon the world recursively.  Education, then, occurs through “acts of cognition not transferals of information” (p. 79).  Yet, Microsoft Word's goal is the efficient transferal of information. Users shouldn't have to think about what they are doing because Word makes it all so easy. The terms easy, efficient, and fast occur over and over in the descriptions of Microsoft Word's features. Certainly, the concepts are not inherently bad. But consider what these adjectives describe and for whom. The stakeholders in Microsoft Word's world are not writing instructors and writing students.

I have so far argued that Word's dominance in the word processing field has made invisible its ideological worldview. An obvious consequence of this invisiblity is false consciousness, however, Scott's work complicates the notion in ways instructive to writing instructors.