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InfoTrac College Edition

Writing on a Computer

If you have never written on a computer, use whatever opportunities your campus offers to learn word processing. Modern programs are simple to use and will make your college career much easier. It will also prepare you for your future career. Almost every business and profession today requires computer literacy. If you find yourself overwhelmed by technology, as many professional writers do, consider taking a computer course. Many colleges offer one credit courses or free seminars. If nothing else, ask a friend or classmate to show you how he or she uses a computer to write.

Strategies For Writing On A Computer

  1. Appreciate the advantages and limitations of using a computer.
    Computers can speed up the writing process, allowing you to add ideas, correct spelling, and delete sentences without having to retype an entire page. But computers will not automatically make you a better writer. They cannot refine a thesis, improve your logic, or enhance critical thinking. Don't confuse the neatness of the finished product with good writing. An attractively designed document must still achieve all the goals of good writing.
  2. Learn the features of your program.
    If you are unfamiliar with writing on a computer, make sure you learn how to move blocks of text, change formats, check spelling, and most importantly master the print and save functions. Find out if your program has an Undo key. This can save the day if you accidentally erase or "lose" some of your text. This key simply undoes your last action, restoring deleted text or eliminating what you just added.
  3. Write in single space.
    Most instructors require that papers be double-spaced. But you may find it easier to compose your various drafts in single space so you can see more of your essay on the screen. You can easily change to double space when you are ready to print the final version.
  4. Save your work.
    If your program has an automatic save function, use it. Save your work to a floppy disc or hard drive. If you are working on a college or library computer and do not have a disc, print your work after a writing session. Don't let a power shortage or a keystroke error cause you to lose your work!
  5. Label your files clearly.
    Because many programs limit the number of characters you can use in a file title, choose your names carefully. Develop a clear notation system such as ENG1 or PSYCH2. If you wish to save a new version of your first English essay you can make it ENG1A.
  6. Print drafts of your work as you write.
    Computer screens usually allow you to view less than a page of text at a time. Although it is easy to scroll up and down, it can be difficult to revise on the screen. You may find it easier to work with a hard copy of your paper. You may wish to double or even triple space before you print, so you will have plenty of room for handwritten notations.
  7. Keep backup discs of your work.
    Floppy discs are fragile. Store them in a case and keep them clear of dust and debris. Do not leave them near a TV or stereo as electrical fields can disturb the data you have stored. Store important data on more than one disc or save printed copies.
  8. Make use of special features.
    Most word processing systems allow you to count the number of words, check spelling, and use a built-in thesaurus. Some programs will aid you with grammar and usage rules.
  9. Use spell and grammar checks but recognize their limitations.
    Spell checking will go through your document and flag words it does not recognize, quickly locating many mistakes you might overlook on your own. But spell checks do not locate missing words or recognize errors in usage, such as confusing there and their or adopt and adapt. Grammar checks sometimes offer awkward suggestions and flag correct expressions as errors. Reading your text aloud is still the best method of editing.

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From The Sundance Reader, Third Edition, Web Site by Mark Connelly.