Gutenberg Exchange Lesson Thirteen: Comparative Textual Analysis
There is another version of this lesson which does NOT emphasize HTML coding. We recommend that you switch to the NO-HTML version of Lesson 13 unless you are in an advanced class.

Computer Literacy Objectives: In this lesson you will learn how to change background colors in a Web page, and you will be introduced to tables in a Web page.

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 emergency links.chicago.html
  3. Go to a comparative analysis template. This page contains a form you are to
    • copy to disk,
    • open in Notepad,
    • fill in,
    • save as a text file with an htm tag, and
    • reload in Netscape.
  4. In the "body bgcolor=" line near the top the Notepad page, you can insert a code to change the Web page's background color. It presently reads "#ffffff", which is the code for white. If you were to leave it blank, it would default to grey. Here are a few more codes:
    • peach #ffdead
    • light blue #ccffff
    • dark blue #oooo4o (with this color you need to change the text color to yellow or white)
    • yellow #ffffoo
  5. You can find more information about colors at A Guide to Color Codes
  6. As you fill in this form, notice the coding for the table, and check the meaning of these codes in An HTML Reference Guide. 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). Rows are horizontal lines in a table; columns are vertical lines in a tatble.
  7. In the first data line for each each row, enter the author's name in the order of the list which appears above the table. These names will fill up the left column of the table
  8. As you gather data, insert it in the appropriate boxes of the table.
  9. Notice that in the source code, comments inside the open pointer bracket followed by an exclamation point and the closed pointer bracket do not appear on the Web page. They are comments for you to see.
  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, save it as a text file with an htm tag.
  13. Return to Netscape and click on the "File" option, and then on the "Open a File" option within the drop-down window.
  14. Load your completed file. If it doesn't look the way you wanted it to, return to Notepad, edit it, save it, and reload it.
  15. Let your teacher see your completed page on screen and print off a copy to hand in.
  16. Close the programs and logout.

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