Visible and Hidden Transcripts: Word Domination and Paths to Resistance


Lynn C. Lewis

University of Oklahoma





Claire's story

Clippie and friends

Word dominance

The public transcript

Transcript traces

Ideology saturation

Through thick and thin

Paths of resistance

Assignment Possibilities






In this essay, I argue that the dominant word processor in the field, Microsoft Word, employs an identifiable rhetoric whose foundation is a quantifying, homogenous approach to writing that eschews the contexts essential to critically-aware writers.

The notion that Microsoft Word insists upon a particular world view builds upon Selfe and Selfe's (1994) examination of the dominant metaphors built in to the computer itself: desktop, file and file folder, trashcan: these metaphors come from the business community and insinuate a particular way of seeing the world. ("Politics of the Interface").  Most importantly, Word's rhetoric is worth interrogating because it provides an opportunity for students to make visible and investigate a cultural object common to their experiences as writers in the 21st century.

Selfe (1999) describes the business, educational, governmental, parental, and ideological contexts shaping and shaped by technological literacies, suggesting that our lack of attention to these complex issues is dangerous.  Similarly, I here suggest that paying attention to Microsoft Word's rhetoric gives writing instructors an opportunity to develop students' critical literacy, so that, as Selber (2004) puts it, they might " encouraged to recognize and question the politics of computers" (p. 75).

Particular assumptions mark Word's rhetoric and shape how writing instructors teach and how students write. Through an examination of both the public transcript of Word's world, that is, how Word's designers describe it, as well as the software program itself, I propose making visible what has been unseen. That effort, I argue, enriches the writing classroom because it provides students with a method to re-view the world. At the end of this essay, I provide sample writing assignments, a step towards genuine inquiry, in which

Knowledge emerges ...through invention and re-invention, through the restless, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other (Freire, 2000, p. 72).