Recently, my grandmother and I were talking while I installed some drivers on her computer following an operating system failure. She was worried that her Word had changed and she wouldn’t be able to use it anymore. Although her situation was different, her fears were an eerie reminder of the utter panic many of my friends and colleagues expressed during several other software transitions, including the dreaded WordPerfect to Word. Since I was always one of the ones behind the transitions, I tried to keep an open mind, listen to their troubles, and find solutions for them. As an expert user and macro programmer of Word, WordPerfect, and OpenOffice, I was constantly conducting one-on-one and group training sessions and sending out tips and cheat sheets. It was not unusual to receive weekend phone calls from panicked secretaries, and I’m still slightly shocked that some of my colleagues didn’t push me in front of the commuter train. Then again, it was their attempt at formatting that caused the panicked phone calls. Every experience highlights one key principle: technology changes rapidly, but people don’t. Throughout every panicked reaction, I always fought the urge to ask why they were using a word processor.
For most things, word processors are massive overkill. For starters, they are large programs packed to the gills with features most of us will never use. They consume memory when running and slow down older computers. Do you really need something that can generate labels from a database to type an email? Plus, some of us, even as adults, have a distressing Dennis, the Menace mentality and are easily distracted by all the pretty buttons just begging us to push them. All the bells and whistles distract us from our primary purpose–writing.
Thus, I wish to introduce you to my little known friend, the text editor. Most programmers are already well acquainted with text editors. We love them. They’re quick, easy, and highly versatile. As a writer who frequently programs, I also write in my text editor. Many text editors, including my personal favorites (KEdit (part of KDE) and Bean (Mac)), allow you to show a few rich text styling options. In Windows, the long-forgotten WordPad is a good basic rich text editor, but NotePad also works quite well for basic writing. Yes, the text is frequently quite ugly and unformatted, but in many cases, that is a good thing. Once I have completed my rough draft, I can either print it out for proofreading and edit it in the text editor or I can close my document and open it using the word processor of my choice. When I open the document, the word processor will apply its default paragraph and header settings without any action on my part. If I need to set additional headers, all I have to do is highlight the text and select the header level from my pull down style menu. Then, I’m done.
If I work in an office where a secretary will be taking my document and merging it together with multiple other documents, I probably just made her day because my document is clean. She doesn’t have to spend a day reading the document codes in Word Perfect or clear all the formatting in Word and then reformatting. Everything that I provided was clean, free of the many extraneous document codes that wreak havoc on master documents.
Now, let’s take the text editor a step further and pretend that you are maintaining a blog or a website. Writing your text in the text editor will save you a lot of heartache. As a general rule, word processors do not produce clean html. This means that if you write your text in a word processor and paste it directly into your blog post or your page, you run the risk of importing many other things that although you probably do not see them, can and will alter your page layout. In my experience, saving the document as a web page produces worse results. Even if you are only using a simple cut and paste text operation, you run the risk of pasting some rather ugly stuff when you paste from a word processor to the web.
Recently, a client was showing me a page on his site. He’d written the content in Word, copied it, and pasted it into WordPress. On the page, there was a strange box floating on top of the main content with some illegible text. Looking in the code, I realized the box was an image. When asked, he confessed that when he didn’t like images in Word, he simply moved them behind the text instead of deleting them. In another case, strange coding in an OpenOffice document actually pushed the sidebar so far over you had to scroll to see it. These are only a few examples of what can and eventually, will go wrong and writing the content in a rich text editor would have prevented these problems. Do yourself a favor and use your rich text editor for writing blog and web content.
You may wonder how I run spell check and grammar check as these two features are not always available in text editors. I donâ€™t. Several studies and personal experience have forced me to conclude these features are more likely to introduce errors into my writing than improve it.
Authorâ€™s Favorite Text Editors
- TextEdit (pre-installed application)
- Notepad ++
- Notepad (standard Windows install)
- Wordpad (standard Windows install)