1. Coble, Dan PhD, RN, CNAA, C, BC

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SOFTWRITING CharacTell Ltd. 213 Bnei Efraim St 69984 Tel Aviv, Israel Telephone: 972-3-6489484 Fax: 927-3-6492454 E-mail: Web: Price: $99.95 for a single writer


Softwriting advertises recognition of nonconnected handwriting in English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Dutch. Such a program could be of great value to a clinician, an instructor, an administrator, or others who produce copious amounts of handwritten notes in their everyday work environment.


The software can be obtained by downloading it from the company's Web site for a 14-day evaluation or by ordering a CD by mail for an additional $10.00. The CD obtained for this review contained a demonstration program that showed how people with cursive writing might benefit by changing their habits. No help files were available on the CD or within the program itself, and the Web site had limited help available. A TWAIN compliant scanner is required; for this evaluation, a Brother multifunction printer-fax-scanner (MFC9100C) was used, connected to a Dell Pentium 4 desktop with 512 MB of memory.


After inserting the program disk into the CD drive, installation was accomplished easily by following the prompts. The Learning Wizard appeared and helped the user teach the system the user's handwriting. The program requested 300 to 500 handwritten words in nonconnected handwriting to learn the user's handwriting. The nonconnected handwriting was not easy to perform. For this analysis, text was hand copied from a CIN article. Hand drawings and diagrams were also included, with text scanned into the program; these drawings and diagrams later appeared as image files within the body of the text.


The program prompted the user to start the scanning process; each page must be scanned separately. After each scan, the user can keep the page, add another page, or finish scanning. A word count is included with each page so that the required minimum number of words may be achieved; the user is prompted when enough words have been scanned. The initial 3 pages of text took 9 minutes to scan into the program. Words not in the dictionary appeared in red; unrecognized words appeared in blue.


In the Proof Reading stage, the user corrected the text by typing over words or by selecting from a list of suggestions that opened beneath the highlighted word. After submitting the corrections, the program learned the user's handwriting characteristics. An advisory indicated if sufficient material was recognized during the learning process. Unfortunately, the first two attempts at learning the user's handwriting were rejected with too few words being recognized. In the first attempt, the software recognized correctly only 20 words out of 310 submitted; in the second attempt, the software recognized 80 words out of 464 words submitted. In each case, the program prompted the user to write with nonconnected letters, which proved to be a tedious task indeed. The third attempt took more than 3 hours for the user to meticulously write the text in nonconnected writing. Again, the program failed to recognize many words correctly, this time getting 120 correct out of 566 submitted.


Another opportunity to use the software occurred when 4 pages of typewritten text were scanned into the program. The software required corrections for 100 of the 600 words in the document. After finishing the learning process, an additional 10 pages of typewritten text from the same machine were scanned, with about 200 words requiring action by the user. The file was saved, and the text was sent automatically to Microsoft Word (XP). The formatting of the original document was lost, so text had to be recentered or aligned into columns. Image files were clear and could be manipulated, repositioned, or resized by the user. Scanning this document and doing the corrective actions required more than 3 hours of user time; a good typist could have retyped the entire document with appropriate formatting in considerably less time.


Overall, the software was easy to use. However, the requirement for nonconnected handwriting proved to be a formidable habit to break. The software was mildly successful in scanning a typewritten document into an editable text file. However, the effort to do so did not make efficient use of time and resources.


Minimum system requirements: Windows 95, 98, ME, or NT 4.0; Intel 486 MHz; 32 MB RAM; 20 MB free disk space; 1x CD-ROM drive; TWAIN compliant scanner; Internet connection.