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European COST IS0703: "Learning to Write Effectively"

Training School Prague 2010
WG4: Technological advances in writing tools

Analysing the time course of typing

Guido Nottbusch, Paderborn University / Bielefeld University


For this training school we'll replicate a sentence production experiment in writing that was originally done in oral speech (Smith & Wheeldon, 1999). In this experiment participants describe three pictures arranged in a horizontal line. Immediately after presentation the pictures begin to move either up or down. Participants are required to describe the pictures from left to right using a single clause sentence of one of the following forms (1) The X and the Y move above/below the Z. (2) The X moves above/below the Y and the Z. The hypothesis is that the sentences beginning with a complex noun phrase (1) lead to longer reaction times than the sentences with a simple structure in the beginning (2).

Example (1): "The fly and the hand move below the spoon."

By logging all keystrokes we can and will do more than just analysing the sentence initial (or speech onset) latencies: We will look at the dynamic emergence of the sentences, even at within word keystrokes. In preparation of the training school session, every participant is required to run the Excel 2007 based experiment (available online, see below) and send me the results file before April 14th. In addition, all participants should be familiar with the original study (at least experiment 1, you'll get a copy via COST-LWE) and should have had a first look at their own data. Bringing a laptop running Excel 2007 will permit to retrace the analyses with your own data during the session.

In my training school session I'll first discuss the experimental setup and some possible alterations (e.g. transfer to other languages), including statistical issues. Second, we'll have a look at individual and overall results and will try to explain the results by looking at models of writing.


All participants of the training school can download the experimental files. You'll need a computer running Microsoft Excel 2007 and a minimum screen resolution of 1024*768. Excel XP or 2003 will do as well, but the files are not tested as thoroughly as the 2007 file. All necessary files are included in the .zip archives. Please download the appropriate zip-file and extract all files to a new folder (!). Then open the Excel file and follow the instructions.

ZIP with all files for Excel 2007 zip (2.01 MB)
ZIP with all files for Office XP or Office 2003 zip (1.96 MB)

If you encounter any problems using the experimental files, please do not hesitate to contact me.

A frequent problem is the error message: "Run-time error '76': path not found" after the execution of step 2 (view stimulus pictures). In this case you've (most probably) startet the Excel file from within the zip-archive. The solution is to unzip (extract) the archive first and then start again with the extracted files.

The archive also contains some of the Snodgrass & Vandervart (1980) stimulus pictures in coloured form taken from Rossion & Pourtois (2004) (slightly edited by me).


Rossion, B., & Pourtois, G. (2004). Revisiting Snodgrass and Vanderwart's object pictorial set: The role of surface detail in basic-level object recognition. Perception, 33, 217–236.

Smith, M. C., & Wheeldon, L. R. (1999). High level processing scope in spoken sentence production. Cognition, 73, 205246.

Snodgrass, J. G., & Vandervart, M. (1980). A standardized set of 260 pictures: Norms for name agreement, image agreement, familiarity, and visual complexity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 6, 174–215.

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