8/14/94, Revised 2/1/03

"Why should I use a computer?"

David A. Gershaw, Ph.D.

Why should I use a computer? This was a question I asked myself for two years, before I started to use computers. Possibly my answers to this question might also be helpful to you.

Many of us have to make out reports, write term papers and write letters. To do it more formally, we type them. I had learned to type a "speedy" 15-20 words per minute so I thought that I didn't need to use a computer. "A typewriter is good enough for me. Why should I use a computer?"

Remember that I am only talking about word processing just writing any sort of a document like a letter, a memo, a term paper or a poem. When you first start writing, the computer works almost exactly like a typewriter except you don't have return the carriage at the end of each line. The computer automatically drops to the next line as you keep typing. However, it takes essentially as long to type on a computer as it does on the typewriter. So why should I use a computer?

In word processing, the outstanding advantage is in making any change or revision. With a typewriter, even a small typographical error can mean that you have to type the whole page over again. If the typo is found after you have typed several pages, you might even have to type all of those pages. It is the same, if you need to add, move or delete a whole paragraph.

With a computer, revisions are extremely easy. A few button pushes, and it is done. To add a paragraph, you merely start typing where you want to insert it, and the computer automatically repositions the following text. To move a paragraph, you merely need to designate the material to be moved and where you want it inserted. A few seconds of pushing the right buttons and it is done. The computer automatically adjusts the material to fill in the gap in the old position and moves the text aside as the paragraph is inserted in the new position. Deleting a paragraph just involves designating the material to be deleted. The computer automatically fills in the gap left by the deleted material.

In addition, there are more options with a computer than most typewriters. The character size and the style of lettering (called a "font") can be easily changed. Most typewriters only offer one size and one font. Although margins and line spacing (single or double) can be adjusted in both, only a computer can make these adjustments easily after you have typed your material! In addition, changes in boldfacing, italics, underlining and other lettering styles are easily done after the fact.

Before I started to use a computer, each weekly article I typed used to take me about 6-10 hours to complete. Having learned the basics of word processing on the computer, my work time for a similar article is now about 3-6 hours.

Even after the article is written, the computer is an asset. For example, after I had written an article, it needed to be cut in length by one-third for publication. With a computer, I deleted various words, phrases and even paragraphs to get it down to the desired size. The whole process took me less than 15 minutes!

With more recent programs, there are added advantages. To help in proofreading, most programs have options that check spelling and grammar. However, you should not rely too completely on this feature. For example, all the spelling option does is determine whether it is a valid English word. It does not tell you whether it is the right English word! If you want the word, "from," it can tell you that "frmo" is misspelled, but it will skip right over the typo that changes it to "form."

Microsoft Word has more recently added a "Speak" option to their word processing program. (This option might also be offered with other word processing programs.) If you highlight the desired material, it will speak the words you have written. (You can even choose the type of voice that will be used.) I find that this option helps me to find errors that I could not find by rereading the material myself which improved the quality of my writing.

Learning new skills is challenging and filled with anxiety,
but the experience of satisfaction is worth the effort.

For those who have never used computers and that used to include me the wealth of options available is confusing and somewhat threatening. In the face of this threatening confusion, it took others almost two years to get me to even try word processing on a computer! However once I learned the basics of word processing I was convinced of the fantastic advantages.

Like any other skill, word processing can only be learned by "hands on" experience, making mistakes and learning how to avoid these mistakes in the future. Although the computer is very fast in what it does, it only does exactly what you tell it to do. In telling the computer what to do, pushing one wrong button can lead to unexpected results and frustration. Since computers are stupid, they cannot anticipate which button you meant to push. However, most of these mistakes are easily corrected if you know what to do.

At your local college, university or high school, there are courses that can train you to use a computer. Beginning courses are offered at various times. All of these courses give you "hands on" experience and much more than the basics of word processing. Contact someone at your local institution to see which course is best for you. If you plan on doing a great deal of writing, try it you'll like it! (Don't wait two years.)

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