Draftback and Writing Visualization

FiveThirtyEight points to a neat little Chrome extension called Draftback that can “play back” any document composed in Google Docs.  As the author indicates, it does this by treating your writing as data, with each individual character entry or deletion (which are already tracked by Docs) being sequenced and played back by Draftback.

This could be a useful way to help students visualize the process of their writing.  What about a workshop session like this?

  • Students write drafts of their essays in Google Docs.
  • They share them with a partner or small group (or the professor) before class.
  • Their group watches each draftback animation and notes places where the author made specific structural, thematic, or grammatical choices that contributed significantly to the current draft, as well as speculate about other directions the draft could have taken if different choices had been made.
  • Then in class, groups conduct a mini-workshop with each essay, drawing on the specifics of the draftback animation for details in their constructive criticism.

This approach could help students understand more concretely the nature of writing as process in addition to product, which is something students often struggle with but that can help immensely in both improving their writing and increasing their confidence in their own writing ability.