Computers are wonderful tools
for writers Ė or are they?
Thereís no question that these marvelous
mechanical wizards make writing easier. They take much of the tedium out
of producing text. They help us avoid common errors in spelling and
grammar. They enable us to move, shape, edit, and revise what we have
written with a few deft keystrokes. They allow us to adapt and reuse our
words in countless ways.
But as many of us have discovered to our
chagrin, computers also create problems. Although they reduce the
incidence of certain errors, they increase the likelihood of others.
Hereís a list of common errors to watch
for when proofreading word-processed text:
Copy/cut miscues. The
difference between the cut & paste command and the copy & paste
command is a single keystroke. As a result, it is distressingly easy
to litter your text with chunks of unwanted or repeated text.
To eliminate this type of error, make
multiple passes through your document, first concentrating on the broader
issues of content and development, then concentrating on the more specific
rules of spelling and punctuation. If you try to proofread on both levels
simultaneously, you are less likely to notice, for example, that a
particular paragraph appears both on page two and on page seven of your
Computers make it so easy to rearrange or eliminate items in a list that
you sometimes forget to renumber the series. When proofreading
word-processed text, be sure to check for errors in the sequence of
numbers or letters. A gap is perhaps the least obvious error of this type.
Computers invite us to try out different word choices to see how they
sound. Unfortunately, in the process of arriving at the text we like best,
we sometimes leave behind scraps of earlier versions.
For example, Iím embarrassed to admit
it, but the following sentence appears in my first collection of columns:
"Can you hear where how the unnecessary phrase breaks the momentum of the
sentence?" When I publish a second edition, I will choose either the
wording hear how or the wording where Ė but I wonít leave
both choices in my final copy.
Template tipoffs. One of the
wonderful attributes of word processing is the ease with which you can
adapt boilerplate documents for multiple uses. The risk, however, is that
you may not completely expunge all vestiges of the earlier versions.
Common oversights involve dates and dollar amounts. The most embarrassing
is using the wrong name.
Automatic page numbering is a godsend to weary typists, but forgetting to
enter the suppress command on the first page results in a
nonstandard format. By convention, no page number should appear on page
one of a document; page numbering should begin appearing on page two.
Hidden headers. Like automatic
page numbering, headers and footers make life easier when it comes to
arranging text on the page, but because they normally are not displayed as
you are writing, you may not think to revise or update the information
they contain. Sometimes what you donít see on your screen is what you
donít want when you print your document. Failing to update hidden text is
an especially common error when working with templates.
Beyond these specific errors, of course,
is the general tendency to trust the accuracy of anything produced by
computers. Perhaps dazzled by their wonderful capabilities, we are
sometimes lulled into a kind of word-processing, grammar-parsing,
spell-checking stupor. We begin to think that if the computer produced it
and looked it over, it must be all right.