Gutenberg Exchange Lesson 13a: Comparative Textual Analysis
There is another version of this lesson which emphasizes HTML coding. You may switch to the HTML version but it is recommended only for advanced classes.

Computer Literacy Objectives: In this lesson you will learn how to make tables in a word processing document.

Writing Objectives: You will compare the prose styles of several professional writers.

In this lesson you will analyze selections from six professional writers, counting the number of times they use various free modifiers, entering your findings in a table, figuring the free modifier to main clause ratio of these writers, and writing a paragraph in which you speculate about the reasons for the differences in style.


  1. This project requires teamwork. Form teams of two, three, or four or go into groups assigned by your teacher. You may want to dedicate different computers to different programs to speed the process. You may also want to assign different tasks in the project to different team members.
  2. Open each of the following texts and analyze a patch of text consisting of approximately 500 words. As you read these texts, look for free modifiers. Every time you encounter one, determine what kind it is and keep track of the total. Also count the number of main clauses in each sample. When you have analyzed each text you should have collected data on how many of each of the free modifiers appear in each sample and how many main clauses appear in each sample. Keep this data somewhere (either in a Notepad document or on a piece of paper). If they won't load, try backup texts.
  3. Go to a comparative analysis template. This page contains a form you are to imitate in a wordprocessing document.
  4. Open your wordprocessor and copy the everything from the comparative analysis template into it. If the table copies, it probably will not copy correctly, so delete everything in it except the caption at the top.
  5. Go back through the document putting in font changes and itallics, etc.
  6. Place your cursor where the table should go and activate the table button. It will ask you for the number of rows and columns you need. You need nine columns (verticle lines in a table) and seven rows (horizontal lines).
  7. You will notice a list of items to be inserted in each row. They are to follow this order: author's name, main clauses (MC), subordinate clauses (SC) noun clusters (NC), verb clusters (VC), adjective clusters (AdjC), relative clauses (RC), absolutes (Abs), and free modifier to main clause ratio (fm:mc). Enter these in the top row, going across the top, so that they serve as labels for each column head. Bold face these entries. Do not boldface anything else within the table.
  8. In the first box of each row, enter the author's name in the order of the list which appears above the table.
  9. As you gather data, insert it in the appropriate boxes of the table.
  10. In the sections of the table where you are to enter the free modifier to main clause ratio, you need to do a little math work. Here is how:
    • Go to your "Accessories" window and open the calculator.
    • From your collected data, divide the number of free modifiers by the number of main clauses for each sample. If, in your sample, there are a total of 20 free modifiers (when you added all the clusters, absolutes, subordinate clauses, and relative clauses together) and there are 10 main clauses, then the sample has a 20:10 ratio, or a 2:1 ratio, or a simple 2 (when the fm number is divided by the mc number).

      If the respective numbers are 37fm and 8mc, then the ratio is 37:8 or 4.625. Generally speaking, the higher this final simple number is, the more facility the writer has with creating complex sentences. HOWEVER, not all kinds of writing call for complex sentences.

  11. In the section of the form that asks you to speculate about the reasons for the different styles, focus on the kinds of writing each text represents. Because all of these writers are published, we can assume that they are all good writers. Does the style reflect the author's individual preferences or does it reflect the demands of the kind of writing that is being done?
  12. When you have filled in the form, being sure that all team members' names are on it, edit it, print it, and save it. Hand it in.
  13. Close the programs and logout.

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