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July 29, 2012 3:12 PM   Subscribe

Software methodologies for writing?

There's been much ink spilled about writing software, and the methodologies for writing software. There's also been much ink spilled about writing, and the methodologies for writing. Now, I know some people use version control for their English and Matt Might uses shell scripts to improve his writing, but are there any other good examples of people using the methods of software engineering to improve their English writing?
posted by curuinor to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
This is a tangent from what you're asking about, but I have a number of friends who use Written? Kitten! to help motivate themselves to write n words every day.
posted by colin_l at 3:16 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is a thing my old peeps at the WIDE center at Michigan State specialize in--though it's also sort of a mashup of people with English degrees developing software to help people write more effectively, but that software process also splashes back on writing. Bill Hart-Davidson has written a lot on content management as a philosophy, and writing for re-use, that is strongly influenced by object-oriented programming. (I took a class from him on this.)

I have another colleague, Karl Stolley at the Illinois Institute of Technology, who is a really vocal advocate of using version control for writing.
posted by Tesseractive at 5:17 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One sentence per line, please describes a clever method for formatting thoughts and sentences in plain text from Brian Kernighan, known for contributions to Unix and C. It has made my writing process easier, though I can't really say if it has had any effect on my writing quality.

The topic of applying software engineering practices to writing is near and dear to my heart, having started college as a CS major but finished in English.
posted by ddbeck at 8:09 PM on July 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think there are fundamental differences between writing and programming

The goal in writing is produce written words.

The goal in programming is to solve problems.

The longer I've been at the programming game, the more I feel like code is rarely the solution to a given problem.

When writing prose, you want to convey a feeling or experience in just such a way. When writing code, you want to spend a lot of time talking to as many people as possible to make sure you understand the problem well enough to write the least amount of code possible.

So since the goals are so different, I have trouble seeing how similar toolsets could be generally applicable between domains.
posted by colin_l at 10:22 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is not what you're looking for, but might be relevant?
posted by cheemee at 10:39 PM on July 29, 2012

So this is sort of web dev centric, but if you consider A/B testing a software methodology, then this is often applied to language itself (when used on a website).

colin_l: "So since the goals are so different, I have trouble seeing how similar toolsets could be generally applicable between domains."

And of course, the more obvious comparisons haven't been mentioned yet, so I'll mention them: grammar and spell check are basically static analysis tools for the English language. Crucially, I don't know of any general static analysis frameworks; each tool seems to have been crafted for the language specifically, so you might not immediately draw the comparison. It might not be quite as advanced as dead code analysis, but even pointing out double negatives help correct common written mistakes.

Now I'm just rolling through the various coder jargon terms in my head pondering what the analogous writer's term would be. Not sure what unit testing would be.
posted by pwnguin at 8:43 PM on July 30, 2012

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