Ways to Use Technology to Help You Write
Most people use computers when writing, but not many reap all the benefits they offer. Depending on how you use them, they can stimulate creativity, save time, prevent you from forgetting ideas, and more. Here are tips for using technology to help you draft and revise a writing assignment.
If assignments must follow a certain format, such as MLA or APA, create a template with the correct header, first page format, and so on. Every time you start a new assignment, start from that template so that you don't waste time formatting the document.
Many writers have trouble putting their ideas on paper when writing the rough draft, and I have two solutions for this problem. First, if you're more articulate when speaking about your ideas, record yourself speaking what you want to write, and then transcribe the recording. Better yet, get voice recognition software so that as you speak, the computer will transcribe it directly to your document. Second, if you habitually edit yourself as you type the rough draft, dim the screen so that you can't see what you're typing.
Keyboard shortcuts save you time, so learn them. If you're really tech-savvy, try creating or downloading macros, which are ways to make computers do two or more tasks in sequence when you enter a keyboard shortcut or click a button. For example, I use a macro that swaps letters or words, which is handy when editing.
You can also create shortcuts to help you type faster. Consider using MS Word's AutoCorrect feature to set shortcuts for words you frequently use or misspell or for long words. For instance, every time I press w and then the slash key, Word corrects it to with. To modify AutoCorrect in Word 2007, click the round Office button (top left of the screen), click Word Options toward the bottom of the menu, click Proofing, and click AutoCorrect Options...
I often make notes to myself when revising, and you can do this in whatever way works best for you: highlight the note, change its font color, bold it, put it in square or curly brackets, or insert a Comment. I also format words that I'm thinking of changing to draw my attention to them.
I used to get annoyed when I deleted a sentence or paragraph and then decided later that I wanted it back. That doesn't happen to me anymore because instead of deleting material, I cut it and paste it into a new document.
Similarly, if you're about to make a big change, save your file, make the change, and then save the file as a separate document. That way, if you end up not liking the change, you can return to the previous draft. I often saved multiple versions of my papers in case a file became corrupt or lost. If you're working on a dissertation or something of that kind of magnitude, I recommend backing up drafts to a flash drive and online with a service such as Windows SkyDrive.
You can make your computer your ally when writing. As technology continues to improve, keep looking for more ways to use it to ease writing. You'll need to write and use technology for the rest of your life, so it's worthwhile to develop skill in both areas.
Photo: Flickr creative commons.
About Darla Word
I'm a writing tutor and editor from Michigan. My favorite subject to write about is writing because making better writers is my calling. I also enjoy reading, singing, swimming, and cardmaking.