Intelligent online writing tool receives Google funding

A grant from search-engine giant Google will help researchers at the University of Sydney enhance an online tool that improves writing skills and offers more functions than those available on word-processing software.

Associate Professor Rafael Calvo from the School of Electrical and Information Engineering received the Google Research Award to refine the iWrite web application, designed to improve individual and collaborative writing skills and provide automated feedback on written work.

iWrite draws on cloud computing to provide feedback to users on their documents in real time. It ensures documents reflect their intent, are coherent and stick to the topic under discussion. The program keeps keywords in check, using concept mapping to visualise keywords and their inter-relationships, and isolating concepts not well integrated into the rest of the document.

iWrite uses web-based word-processing services provided by Google. ’In contrast to desktop applications, the files are stored on Google servers, saving millions in the infrastructure costs of running the tools, keeping backups and so on,’ said Associate Professor Calvo.

iWrite, through Google Docs, also allows the synchronous collaborative writing of documents, with authors able to interact in real time. ’Unlike current word-processing applications, we are able to provide feedback while you and the rest of your team write,’ added Calvo.

Calvo says the Google funding will allow his research team to experiment with different types of feedback with a view to identifying the most effective way of interacting with users.

iWrite is currently being used by about 700 engineering students at the university, largely for essay writing, but Calvo says it offers benefits over word processors to anyone with a writing component in their day-to-day life.

iWrite is part of a wider ’Supporting Academic Writing’ program developed by Calvo and colleagues over the last four years, with support from the Australian Research Council and the Australian Learning and Teaching Council.