17 tips for making all writing faster and easier; stop using your word processor like a typewriter – tutorial

David Hallerman

Perhaps it’s a perverse side of human nature to make easy tasks harder than they need be. Take word processing, for example, which can be a lot easier than any other method I know for getting your thoughts down. Too often I’ve seen people–even people accustomed to their programs–make life harder for themselves by using word processors like glorified typewriters or, worse, electronic pads and pencils. (“Gee, Fred, it sure is easy to rub out words by pushing that Backspace button.”)

Although it’s true that word processing is a lot like typewriting, many people stay at the electronic typing stage for too long. Here are 17 tips that can help you use a word processor like the modern tool for writing and editing that it truly is.

1. Separate writing from formatting. It’s too easy to mix up the two when you’re using a word processor. Putting your thoughts and ideas into words, and refining those words until they clearly say just what you mean, is the essence of writing. Don’t worry if the words line up a little funny on-screen at first. Indenting paragraphs, setting special margins or line spacing, making words bold or italic, and so forth–all steps that merely format your words–are best put off until after you’ve completed your initial draft.

2. Format on the fly. Once you’re proficient with your word processor, however, and invoking formatting commands doesn’t interrupt your train of thought, format a little as you go. It will help you organize your writing. For instance, if you boldface main headings in a proposal in the early writing stages, you can easily skip through your document later on, adding ideas as they come to you under the prominent, easy-to-find bold headings. Most word processors show bold text either in a different color or–as in Macintosh and Windows programs–as actual boldface type.

3. Cut and paste. Efficient word processing typically means you rarely retype text. Instead, you can quickly enter thoughts as they occur and then flesh them out and use the cut (or copy) and paste features to rearrange them in the editing stages. Taking full advantage of cut and paste also means using it to relocate short phrases, or even single words, as well as whole paragraphs or large blocks of text.

4. Worry about grammar and style, but only after you’ve gotten your thoughts down on-screen. Writing is rewriting, and rewriting on the computer may include the use of such grammar- or style-checking software as RightWriter, Grammatik, or Correct Grammar (all three are available for both MS-DOS and Macintosh systems).

5. Don’t worry about spelling. There’s often no sense in trying to correct your spelling as your write. Instead, write at your natural level of spelling skill, and then spell-check afterward. You’ll still have to proofread, but that would be true even if you tried to catch errors as you wrote.

6. Write in shorthand. If you have a long name or a repeated phrase in your text, try writing it in shorthand. For example, if you’re writing catalog copy for tools, you might type “BD” to stand for Black & Decker. Then, after your first draft, use the search-and-replace function to expand BD into full text.

7. Skip around. One of the major differences between word processing and any other form of writing is the ease with which you can skip around as thoughts come to you. Perhaps you write everything linearly, but I typically get an idea from here, a fragmented thought from there, and a rough outline of what I want to say at the start. So I jot down all those elements as they come to me, insert several carriage returns between the thoughts, and fill in my web of words to complete the text. In essence, I outline on-screen without a formal structure.

8. Leave room for thoughts. Peering over shoulders, I’ve often seen people struggling to insert a new thought in the middle of a paragraph. Sure, your word processor will shove over the text automatically, but the moving words and redisplayed paragraphs can be a visual distraction. If your revision is substantial, why not first insert extra lines on-screen to clear a space for your thoughts as well as your eyes? You can easily delete the extra return characters to close up the paragraph after you’re done writing.

9. Jump around your document. Most word processors give you ways to jump from paragraph to paragraph, sentence to sentence, start of line to end of line, beginning of document to end, and other options. These timesaving jump keys are often an arrow key combined with a modifier key, such ad Ctrl, Alt, Option, Command, or Shift. If you spend only half an hour with your software’s documentation, I strongly urge you to learn those jump keys. Most programs also offer a Go To command that typically moves you from page to page, which is especially useful in longer documents.

Also, whatever program you use, you can ] insert your own place markers for quick jumps from section to section. For instance, you might insert “$$$” at the head of a chapter or “GGG” right before a graphic. You then simply use the software’s search function to jump to those character sets.

10. Divide and conquer. Some people disagree, but I suggest that you rarely revise an original document file. Instead, whenever you’re about to make significant changes, you might duplicate the file with a new version number. That way, if you don’t like the alterations, you can easily go back to the previous version of that file. Also, you can tell at a glance in a file directory or icon window which version(s) of a document you’re looking at.

For example, if I were writing this article on a DOS computer, I’d probably name the files WPARTCLE.V1, WPARTCLE.V2, and so on, as I polished it. If my DOS word processor added its own three-character file extension instead, I’d name the files WPART[underscore]V1.TXT, WPART[underscore]V2.TXT, and so on. On a Mac, I simply add v1, v2, and so forth to the end of the file name. That way, when I choose Save As . . . from the File menu to rename a new version, I just click to the right of the file name, press Delete once to remove the former version number, type the next number in the series, and save the new file.

11. Recycle your words. You’ll save writing time by recycling text from older files, such as letters or reports. You might just copy text from your older file into your current one. Additionally, you can save the original file under a new name as soon as you call it up, and then make revisions to fit your immediate needs. In either case, make sure that any specific references to another client or customer in the older document are changed before you print out the new document.

12. Insert standard text quickly. Another way to save time–especially in business documents, where people typically reuse the same phrases and paragraphs–is by creating various macros that insert text passages with a keystroke combination. For instance, you might use three different concluding paragraphs in a sales letter: one for new customers, the second for existing customers, and the third for former customers. Instead of typing one of those paragraphs each time you compose a letter, type each one once and assign each to a macro key. Then you can quickly insert the appropriate ending in each letter.

13. Window your work. When what you’re writing is based on research, you might want to view your notes in one window as you write the piece in a second window. Most word processors let you view two (or more) documents open at the same time in separate windows or different parts of one document divided into two windows. With the latter solution, you’ll want to keep your research notes at one end of the document file and the actual writing at the other end.

14. Share ideas. Sometimes you write as part of a group. It’s easy to share writing in progress with others for editing or additions, for example, by sending files on-line or mailing a disk. Just be sure the recipient either has the same, or a compatible, word processor; if not, remember to save your writing as an ASCII text file, making it compatible with nearly all word processors.

15. Undo to see possibilities. (This tip works on the Mac but not with all DOS programs.) Using an “undo” command on text is often like a toggle switch–invoking it once revokes the previous change, and invoking it a second time gives you back your original text. I try a sentence one way, and if I’m uncertain about a passage I replace it with a new phrase by selecting the original and typing the new phrase as a substitute. At that point, if the only thing I do with the program is invoke its undo command, I can toggle between both versions of the sentence, reading it over to determine which one I prefer.

16. Examine word frequency. One way to eliminate repetitious writing is to note how often you’ve used a particular word or phrase. Many word processors, such as Microsoft Word, tell you how many changes the program made when you chose an automatic search-and-replace operation. To investigate your text, just enter the word or phrase you’re checking p on as both the search and the replace strings. Nothing will change in your document, but you’ll know how often those words are used.

17. Eliminate weak writing. You can also use manual search and replace to avoid overusing weak words and sentence structure. For instance, if you’ve written a document that contains sentences like “This feature can help you” or “They can work hard,” a search for the word can will steer you towards those weak spots and help you beef up your writing with stronger sentences: “This feature helps you” and “They work hard.”

Bonus tip. You’ll never really master the art of word processing until you can write without stopping to think about how to use the program. So before you try out any of the tips above on and important project, you might want to spend 15 minutes playing around with a sample document or two to get up to speed. By practicing first and working later, you won’t have to worry about making word-processing errors as you write your real documents.

COPYRIGHT 1991 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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