Clarify, an On-line Guide for Revising Technical Prose

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Rand, 1983 - Technical writing - 55 pages
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This Note describes the development and testing of CLARIFY, a computerized writing aid designed at The Rand Corporation to assist writers in revising technical prose. CLARIFY is not a traditional readability formula; its design reflects research on how English speakers go about the task of understanding sentences. CLARIFY flags sentences that have certain patterns of nominalizations, prepositional phrases, and forms of the verb to be. The choice of these features reflects research which suggests that the dominant strategy employed by English speakers in interpreting sentences is the assumption of a subject-verb-object (SVO) structure. The features that CLARIFY flags are good surrogate indicators that a sentence does not have an SVO structure, and therefore that the initial interpretive strategy will be unsuccessful. In developing CLARIFY, we tested various patterns of these features and obtained user comments about the system's usefulness and effectiveness. Like all computerized writing aids, CLARIFY has limitations. The most important are (1) it functions only at the sentence level, and (2) it uses surrogate rather than directly causal measures of comprehension. Despite these limitations, the test users found that CLARIFY prompted them to revise more extensively, more quickly, and more effectively. Authors can work with CLARIFY output either on-line or in hard copy. CLARIFY is in general use at The Rand Corporation, where it is also continuing to be tested. (Author).

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