Review of the Late Night Writer Composition Tool
Late Night Writer is a composition tool aimed at students who wait until the last minute to complete their written assignments. For this reason, in its current configuration it only offers a 24-hour period in which to complete an assignment. In other words, it is not designed to teach students about the writing process or to aid them in refining their writing skills. Late Night Writer is really just intended to provide a calm-inducing structure for a panicked student to quickly and systematically organize and complete a written assignment.
I went through their Alpha Test, which actually generated a 4-page paper for me. That came as something of a surprise because the writing process is so compartmentalized: you work on only one sentence at a time and the sentences you write are rarely put in sequential order. That seems to be both the most useful part of this writing aid, as well as its biggest problem—but more about that later. I think breaking up the writing like this makes it much less daunting to tackle the writing of a paper; this way you just take it piece by piece. Also you can focus on the paper piece by pieceâ€”answering one question at a time. And the entire approach is very systematic; you get taken from one question to the next and then all of your answers are processed into the format of a larger paper.
While the designers of the tool recommend its use only for written assignments not tied to composition classes, I think it is a tool that could be useful for writing instructors as well instructors for other courses involving a written component. Of course the writing aid would need to be much more didactic for writing instructors to feel comfortable using it—a feature which should also serve the interests of instructors in other disciplines (any discipline which requires writing would conceivably be interested in discussing how it works or at least in assuring that students understand how it works). While the questions the program poses do require critical thinking and usually at least have you thinking about the focal points of individual paragraphs, the writing process seems fundamentally disconnected from the process of putting together a paperâ€”which the program does entirely for you, albeit with mixed results. Granted you do have to do some pretty involved editing just to make your paper flow properly and logically once the program assembles it for you. But since this is a program expressly designed for procrastinators, Iâ€™m not sure how much time we could expect the average undergrad to do the necessary editing to make their paper flow well. The process of putting together a well-argued, tightly organized paper would remain mystified unless the program did more to point out the steps of the organizational process, not to mention the necessary analytical process. In addition, the format is very basic; you are only offered two choices: report (which seems a label more appropriate to high school assignments) or review (book or film). If they could have a more flexible format which takes into account better the demands of particular assignments, it would be much more useful.