Writer's Workbench

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The Writer's Workbench (wwb) was a software package developed for the Unix operating system by Lorinda Cherry and Nina McDonald of Bell Labs.[1][2] It was perhaps the earliest grammar checker to receive wide usage on Unix systems.[3]

Capabilities[edit]

wwb's utilities were capable of analysing text for parts of speech, and for word and sentence length, and of comparing the results to established norms.[4]

The Writer's Workbench was meant to help students learn to edit their work:

My feeling about a lot of those tools is their value in education is as much pointing out to people who are learning to write that they have choices and make choices when they do it. They don’t think of a writing task as making choices per se. Once they get it on paper they think it’s cast in stone. So it makes them edit.[5]

Polling at Colorado State University in the 1980s indicated that wwb was well received by students and faculty.[6] Additional analysis in the 1980s indicated close correlation between wwb's assessments and essay grading rubrics.[6]

Package contents[edit]

As of 1983, the wwb package contained 29 utilities.[7] As of 1986, this had increased to around 35-40 utilities:[8]

Command Description
abst Analyzes documents for abstractness.
acro Finds acronyms in text files.
conscap Identifies inconsistent capitalization.
consist Identifies inaccuracies in trademarks and inconsistent capitalization between British English and American English.
conspell Identifies inconsistent use of British and American spelling.
continge Analyzes text for contingencies in procedural documents.
continrls Presents information about how contingencies can be displayed as if-then lists or decision trees.
dictadd Adds words to the dictionaries used by diction, sexist, spellwwb and tmark.
diction Identifies wordy sentences and suggests how they may be simplified.
diversity Analyzes word frequencies to provide a measure of the number of distinct words, and generates an output file ranking how often particular words occurred.
double Identifies accidental repeated occurrences of the same word, such as "the the" or "and and".
findbe Identifies uses of the verb "to be" (see E-Prime).
gram Identifies misused articles and split infinitives.
match Compares outputs from the style command to statistically compare writing styles between documents.
mkstand Analyzes a "well-written" document to generate a standard for use by the prose command.
morestyle Analyzes text by running the abst, diversity, neg and topic commands.
murky Analyzes procedural documents to identify difficult sentences.
neg Identifies negations in text.
org Processes documents to produce condensed versions that show the document's organization.
parts Analyzes documents to assign parts of speech to each word.
proofr Invokes the spellwwb, punct, double, diction and gram commands to perform automatic proofreading.
proofvi Invokes the spellwwb, punct, double and diction commands to provide interactive error correction.
prose Describes the writing style of a document.
prosestnd Displays the standards used by the prose command.
punct Checks punctuation of documents.
punctrls Displays punctuation rules.
reroff Converts formatted text into nroff format.
sexist Identifies sexist terms and suggests alternatives.
spelladd Adds words to the personal dictionary used by spellwwb.
spelltell Finds the correct spelling of a word.
spellwbb Enhanced version of the spell command that can process multiple files.
splitrls Displays information about split infinitives.
style Analyzes style characteristics of documents.
switchr Analyzes documents to identify words used as both nouns and verbs.
syl Analyzes documents to produce a list of every word used along with the number of syllables of each word.
tmark Identifies incorrectly used trademarks.
tmarkrls Displays information about rules for the correct use of trademarks.
topic Lists the most frequent nouns in a document to give some idea about its topic.
worduse Displays information about correct use of words and phrases.
wwb Invokes the proofr and prose commands to provide a complete report on a document and suggested improvements.
wwbaid Online help system for the Writer's Workbench.
wwbhelp Searches for help on a particular Writer's Workbench topic.
wwbinfo Displays a complete summary of the Writer's Workbench suite.

History and successors[edit]

The wwb package was included with AT&T UNIX in the late 1970s and early 1980s and received wide distribution as a result.[9][10] However, wwb was not included with Version 7 Unix, and gradually became abandonware.[9] Various successors arose, based closely upon wwb, such as the commercial Grammatik packages for IBM PCs.[11][3][10]

The GNU operating system contains free software implementations of several wwb utilities, such as spell, style and diction.[9] As of early 2019, the look utility had not yet been ported to GNU, but its implementation from 4.4BSD-Lite is available as free software, for example via Debian.[12][13][9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Smith, Charles R.; Kathleen E. Kiefer; Patricia S. Gingrich (1 July 1984). "Computers come of age in writing instruction". Computers and the Humanities. Springer Netherlands. 18 (3): 215–224. doi:10.1007/BF02267225. Six years ago, Lorinda Cherry, a computer scientist at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, added several programs to analyze English texts ... Building on her work, members of the Documentation Technologies Group at Bell Laboratories in Piscataway, New Jersey, added dozens of complementary programs, creating a series now known as the UNIX Writer's Workbench Software.
  2. ^ Raskin 1986, p. 194: "The parts-of-speech checker formed the program's backbone and was written by Lorinda Cherry, a computer scientist. It assesses the parts of speech in a document to 96 percent accuracy (equivalent to human performance on the same task). Nina McDonald, a psycholinguist at Bell Labs, did the majority of the other programming."
  3. ^ a b Dale, Moisl & Somers 2000, p. 181: "Grammar checkers, using the term in its widest sense, have been around for almost 20 years. Writer's Workbench was probably the earliest to be widely used on Unix systems. Then there were smaller systems with many similarities to Writer's Workbench that became available for the IBM PC in the early to mid-1980s."
  4. ^ Costanzo 1989, pp. 145-146: "Writer's Workbench works primarily by counting and comparing. It counts the number of letters in a word (or words in a sentence) and compares the figures to established norms, then calculates a text's 'readability,' it's probability of being understood by a given audience. By matching the text against a data base of linguistic information, the computer identifies parts of speech, possible misspellings, and potential usage problems. The programming tricks for doing this are ingenious, but ultimately limited. What Writer's Workbench tells writers about the quality of their prose is based chiefly on quantifiable data."
  5. ^ Silverman, David. "Text Processing and the Writer's Workbench". Unix: An Oral History. Michael Sean Mahoney. Retrieved 25 November 2012. They knew that the ultimate lesson was to teach students that writing is a series of choices, not a matter of pretty formatting on a laser printer. Cherry expressed her vision of the Workbench’s use....
  6. ^ a b Costanzo 1989, pp. 157-158: "Kiefer and Sutherland polled students who used Writer's Workbench at Colorado State University, finding that student attitudes toward the program were positive, often enthusiastic (1984). They also polled participating faculty, who generally agreed that the program sensitized their students to the kinds of errors and stylistic weaknesses they stressed in their grading. But what about the quality of the writing? Reid and Findlay examined the relationships between holistically-scored essays and various stylistic features measured by Writer's Workbench (1986). They expected to find high correlations between the better essays and the more sophisticated elements of style, such as sentence structure, vocabulary, and parts of speech. Instead, the relatively simple quantitative measurements, like sentence length, word length, essay length, spelling, and readability, turned out to be more significant. This in itself is an intriguing finding. It suggests that the most important outcome of such studies may be what they reveal about our grading policies, not about our software."
  7. ^ Infoworld 1983, p. 42: "Writer's Workbench (WWB) ... which was developed at Bell Laboratories, is actually a collection of 29 different programs that check spelling and punctuation, analyze writing style and provide information about principles of clear writing. The Writer's Workbench programs can be used separately, or they can be used as a group through the use of a single command.
    The programs operate on ASCII text files and will return a wide array of information that breaks down into four categories: proofreading; style analysis; information; and 'utility' programs, which allow you to tailor Writer's Workbench to your own specifications...
    [WWB includes] a program that will check for sexist usage of language and suggest alternatives. If Writer's Workbench finds the word manpower, it might recommend replacing it with staff or personnel."
  8. ^ Raskin 1986, p. 194: "Today Writer's Workbench contains between 35 and 40 programs and requires about 700K bytes of memory."
  9. ^ a b c d Stutz, Michael (2004). The Linux Cookbook: Tips and Techniques for Everyday Use (2 ed.). No Starch Press.
  10. ^ a b Pfaffenberger 1987, p. 183: "Style analysis programs originated in the research labs of the giants AT&T (Writer's Workbench) and IBM (Epistle). Writers Workbench got widely distributed during the 1970s and early 1980s because, owing to the government's prohibition (since lifted) on AT&T's entry into the computing market, it couldn't sell the software it developed (such as the UNIX operating system). AT&T therefore gave UNIX (often with Writer's Workbench) to many colleges and universities, and a generation of programmers and computer freaks grew up with it. Writer's Workbench, therefore, has inspired legions of programmers, who have developed personal computer versions of it."
  11. ^ "Grammatik II". PC: The Independent Guide to IBM Personal Computers. Software Communications. 5: 190–199. 1986.
  12. ^ "Debian -- File list of package bsdmainutils/stretch/amd64". Packages.debian.org. Retrieved 13 February 2019.

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