Comment Shortcuts in Word

Shortcut

by C.K. MacLeod

Editors use the Comments feature in Word to ask writers clarifying questions or to make suggestions. Beta readers can use this feature to provide feedback, too.

In Word 2016, you could, of course, wander over to the ribbon, click on the Reviewing tab, and select New Comment in the Comments area. But that’s a lot of clicks if you have to repeat this action hundreds of times in a week.

To save your wrists from repetitive strain, click anywhere in a word and use the keyboard shortcut Alt + R, C.

If you work on multiple documents like I do, you might discover that you’re typing the same comment repeatedly. You can create a shortcut for these “standard” comments, too! Here’s how:

In Word, click on File, Options, Proofing, Autocorrect Options. In the grid that pops up, type a two- or three-character shortcut in the Replace box. In the With box, type the sentence that you want your computer to type for you.

Autocorrect dialog box in Word 2016
Create your own "text expander" using shortcuts.

Here’s what that looks like:

Replace: .cl
With: Could you check this link?

Your computer will type the sentence for you when you type .cl.

or

Replace: .wi
With: Could you write a one-paragraph intro to frame the module?

Tip: Begin your shortcut with a period, so you don’t accidentally choose letter combinations that are words (".at" for "insert alt text" is better than "at," for example). Choose letter combinations that you’ll remember easily. For me, .cl means “check link” and .wi means “write intro.”

Creating shortcuts can save your wrists from too much mousing, clicking, and typing. It can also save you loads of time.

What are your favourite shortcuts? Are you a Mac user? What shortcuts do you use? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Image by Daniel Lobo

6 Tips for Dictating Your Writing

Blue Snowball mic

by C.K. MacLeod

Updated.

Dictation has become increasingly popular with writers who want to improve their writing productivity. As a writer and editor, I struggle with achy wrists from too much typing, tapping, and mousing. I know I'm not alone. To save my wrists, I've decided to take dictation for a spin. Here a few tips for using dictation, if you decide to give it a try:

Try it with short-form writing first.

Email is a great way to begin. Email a trusted friend who will forgive you for any fumbling and inexplicable wordiness. When I first dictated this article, it was a beast of a thing. Before I took out my editing hatchet, that is.

Work from an outline.

Take three minutes to plan what you want to say. A short, point-form list should do the trick. If you understand where you're going, you're less likely to wander into a verbal thicket.

Remember to speak out punctuation.

Say “comma,” or “period” when you want to insert punctuation. To start a new paragraph, say “new line.” It feels awkward to speak out punctuation, but it gets easier with time.

Think before you speak.

Your mom was right. Thinking before you speak is not only wise, but it makes for more accurate voice dictation. Monica Leonelle, author of Dictate Your Book: How to Write Your Book Faster, Better, and Smarter, recommends pausing while dictating, and then speaking in phrases instead of word by word. For some reason, speak recognition engines record phrases more accurately than individual words. So take time to gather your thoughts. With voice diction, awkward pauses are okay!

Get ready to edit.

If your dictation is wordy or disorganized, you will spend more time than usual editing your writing. Because speaking and keyboarding involve different neural pathways, and may engage different areas of the brain, your writing and speaking styles may differ.

When I first learned to write, I needed to conserve my words—in other words, to not write like I speak. Now, in learning dictation, I need to learn to speak more like I write!

Use editing tools.

Dictation may help you get more words on the page, but you’ll need some objectivity to help you decide which words should stay there. Revision and proofreading tools can show you where your writing needs pruning.

Final Thoughts

I've found that dictation works best as a first-draft exercise for getting first thoughts on a page. Once those thoughts are there, I can use my keyboard to make them intelligible. So, add dictation to your repertoire of tools, but don’t feel it has to replace the keyboard.

There are lots of options for trying dictation. I've written about Windows Speech Recognition  and Google's Voice Typing on this blog. Keep checking back for more reports on my adventures with dictation.

Image by Vincent Diamente

Dictate Your Writing with Google’s Voice Typing

Blue Snowball mic

by C.K. MacLeod

Dictation has become popular with writers who are interested in improving their writing productivity. Google recently introduced “voice typing” for Google docs, so writers can dictate their writing while on-the-go.

As a writer and editor with achy wrists from too much typing, tapping, and mousing, I decided to take voice typing for a spin.

From the get-go, Google Voice Typing is dead easy to use. Open Google Docs, go to the Tools menu, and click on Voice typing. An orange microphone icon pops up in the left menu bar. Click on the icon and begin speaking.

Google Voice Typing

Voice typing had no problems picking up my Canadian accent. In fact, I was surprised to discover that it produced far fewer pronunciation errors than I had expected. If there were any errors, they were mine.

I am, admittedly, less fluent when my writing is produced by mouth, instead of with my fingers. But I remember a time when keyboarding felt disfluent to me, so dictation may be a skill I can learn with practice.
Here’s my quick review of Google’s Voice typing:

Pros

  • Free for anyone who has a gmail account
  • Easy to use
  • Surprisingly accurate from the first use—at least for my Canadian accent
  • Cloud-based

Cons

  • Doesn’t recognize commands for open and closed quotes, ellipsis, and semicolon
  • No spoken editing commands (e.g., delete that, go to)
  • Works best with a decent quality mic (I use a Blue Snowball)
  • Potential privacy issues — who has access to your dictation?

Conclusion

If you’re a writer, and you want to give dictation a try, Google’s Voice typing is a nice, basic tool to begin with.

If you’re an editor who’s trying to ease your wrists, you could use Google’s Voice typing to write margin comments (which you can then feed into a text expander) or client emails, but you may prefer a dictation tool with editing features.

Not sure how to begin with voice dictation? See 5 Tips for Dictating Your Writing.

Do you use voice dictation? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Image by Vincent Diamente

How to Ease Repetitive Strain Injury

By C.K. MacLeodGraffiti of words repeat again

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Is your wrist starting to ache and your fingers starting to tingle? If so, you could be experiencing early signs of repetitive strain injury.

You're not alone. I've gotten away with the same computer practices I've used for years, without a bodily complaint. Until now. Thankfully, it's not too late to develop new computer-healthy habits.

In dealing with RSI, it's important to do whatever you can to interrupt or reduce the actions that are causing you discomfort. Cycling through a variety of strategies on a daily basis can help. Here's what I’ve tried:

  • left-hand mousing (I typically mouse with my right hand—and yes, the first left-hand day was rough)
  • a new kind of mouse (to change my hand position)
  • a new way of mousing (on my pant leg—a lower hand position can ease strain)
  • a new keyboard, with a different configuration than my old one
  • keyboard shortcuts (to reduce mousing)
  • macros (to automate editing and proofreading tasks)
  • speech-recognition software (to reduce keyboarding and mousing)
  • writing in markdown (to prevent mousing for formatting operations)
  • frequent breaks (with the assistance of Workrave, a free RSI prevention app)
  • roller derby wrist guards (to temporarily immobilize my wrist and prevent further strain—yes, I play roller derby, and surprise! I sustain more injuries from my computer) — use with caution because, as my chiropractor pointed out, "mobility is better than immobility"
  • old-school technology (to reduce mousing)
  • hand exercises (thanks to J Washburn for this tip)
  • physiotherapy (thanks to Ahmed and Mike for sorting me out)
  • chiropractic (for a derby injury—but this will be my first stop if I have the misfortune of of sustaining a computer-related back injury)
  • rest

Disclaimer: I am not an authority on RSI—only a victim of it. But I did query an occupational therapist, a kinesiologist, and a physiotherapist, and they agreed that changing things up is a key to reducing strain. If you have pain in your wrist and fingers, your wisest course of action is to first consult with your physician, physiotherapist or chiropractor.

I suspect that the best way to deal with RSI is to prevent it. What are your RSI prevention strategies?

Image by Feral78

A Tool for Distraction-Free Writing

QuickPad ProBy C.K. MacLeod

I rediscovered my QuickPad Pro in a recent office cleaning frenzy. It was squirreled away in a cupboard with an old VHS video recorder.

QuickPad Pro is an intelligent keyboard, designed for simple writing tasks. Circa Y2K, journalists reportedly hauled them overseas when lugging a 10 lb laptop was inconvenient, or finding a power source was impossible.

My QuickPad Pro weighs in at 2 lbs 2 oz. While the problem of heavy laptops has been addressed with today's ultrabooks (my 2014 ultrabook weighs in at 2 lbs, 15 oz), you'd be hard pressed to find an ultrabook that will run for 100 hours before it needs a recharge. It was this single fact that kept my QuickPad Pro out of the giveaway box.

Pros and Cons of Old Tech

If you have an intelligent keyboard in your cupboard, don’t recycle it yet. There may be possible new uses for your old tech. Consider these pros and cons:

Pros

  • lightweight and durable
  • starts up quickly (one-button start)
  • distraction-free (no Internet connection)
  • an excellent first-draft tool because you can only write in plain text, which means you'll get into the habit of focusing on writing and leaving editing and formatting for later
  • runs for 100 hours on three AA batteries
  • doesn't require the use of a mouse (goodbye RSI?)
  • responds to some keyboard shortcuts, which helps with navigation
  • people who own intelligent keyboards love them and still use them; there's even a Facebook group for the one I own
  • online support for the QuickPad Pro is excellent
  • some authors (James Scott Bell, George R. R. Martin and Bryan Cohen are three examples) are producing reams of writing using old tech
  • unlikely to be stolen in a smash-and-grab, and it won’t be coveted by your kid

Cons

  • the screen has a bit of glare, and it isn't backlit, but this isn't a deal-breaker
  • the screens on some intelligent keyboards, such as the Alphasmart, are quite small
  • the angle of the screen is a bit awkward, unless you stack a few books under the screen end of the device or sit up straight while writing (probably not a bad idea)
  • over time, the keyboard can become a bit sticky
  • transferring files to your computer (where you'll edit and format them) can be tricky if your computer cannot recognize your intelligent keyboard
  • intelligent keyboards are no longer being made, so if you want one, you'll need to keep an eye on Ebay

Tip: Before you write your next novel on an intelligent keyboard, first check to see if you can transfer files to your computer. If you can't, search for a forum that can offer tips.

New uses for Old Tech

My QuickPad has become another tool in my my RSI blasting arsenal. It's helped me to create distraction-free writing sessions, and I'm also experimenting with writing in markdown on my Quickpad. Who knows what can happen when old and new tech worlds collide?

Do you use old tech for writing?

How to Create a Keyboard Shortcut for the Snipping Tool

Scissors

by C.K. MacLeod

I'm trying to use my mouse less and my keyboard more. Why? Keyboard shortcuts can

  • reduce repetitive strain injury from too much mousing
  • help you to complete writing and editing tasks more efficiently

Save Time

Hilary Powers, in her excellent book, Making Word 2010 Work for You, has pointed out that it often takes less time to execute a keyboard shortcut than it takes for your hand to wander to your mouse, click through a menu in a word processing program or in Windows Explorer, and wander back to the keyboard. She has a point. Why leave the keyboard, if you don't have to?

Create Your Own Shortcuts

In this post, I'll describe the steps for creating your own keyboard shortcut for the Windows Snipping Tool—a handy application for taking screenshots while writing and blogging.

It's a multi-step process to find the Snipping Tool with Windows Explorer. Instead, I've assigned the Snipping Tool the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Alt + K so that I can open it in seconds.

Quick Steps

  1. Find the Snipping Tool application in Windows Explorer by going to the Start menu and keying in "Snipping." The Snipping Tool should show up in the Start menu.
  2. Right-click on the application name (Snipping Tool) and click on Properties.
  3. Next to Shortcut key: insert the key combinations you want to use to open that application. I've used Ctrl + Alt + K because the that key combination isn't already being used for another action* and because the K reminds me of a pair of scissors left open on a table.
  4. Click Okay, and try your your new shortcut.

Once you integrate them into your workflow, keyboard shortcuts can save you time. What other writing-related applications could you assign a keyboard shortcut to?

*Note: Some key combinations are already assigned functions in Windows 7. Windows will let you know if you choose a combination that's already taken.

Image by James Bowe

Wrist-Saving Keyboard Shortcuts

Hand on keyboard by Branko Collin

by C.K. MacLeod

Using keyboard shortcuts can help you to ease repetitive strain injury (RSI) in the fingers and wrist caused by overusing a mouse or touchpad. And once these shortcuts become second-nature, they can help you to write more efficiently as well.

The keyboard shortcuts listed below are not software-specific or operating system-specific—they don't just work for Windows users, or Word users, for example. They should work on most computing devices, even the old-school intelligent keyboards that some authors, like Bryan Cohen, are experimenting with to help them focus on writing without the distractions of social media and the Internet.

Print this downloadable file and stick it next to your computer for easy reference. Do you use a Mac? Check out this post by Adrienne Montgomerie for a handful of Mac keyboard shortcuts.

Tip: When using keyboard shortcuts, be sure to keep your wrists straight, and allow your hands to float over the keys.

Hide Your Mouse

Old habits die hard. When I began to feel strain in my wrist, I was surprised to discover how often I reached for my mouse without really thinking about it. I was also shocked to discover that my hand rested rather tensely on my mouse when I wasn't typing.

If your mousing habits are entrenched like mine are, you may need to unplug or turn off your mouse for a few minutes each day, so you can learn to rely a bit more on keyboard shortcuts. If you use a touchpad, you can put a sticky note overtop to temporarily disable it.

You don't have to learn all of the keyboard shortcuts listed in this post—learn the ones you like. If a few of them become habit, you'll reduce your mouse use and have a better chance of easing some of the strain.

Tip: if you learn the Jump to shortcuts first, the rest of the shortcuts are easier to learn. The keys you'll use the most in these combinations are the Ctrl key and the arrow keys.The Jump to shortcut keys are useful for scrolling through online articles, too!

Image by  Branko Collin

A New Kind of Mouse for Writers

By C.K. MacLeod

Genius Pen Mouse
Genius Pen Mouse

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) can be caused by too much mousing. You can reduce the amount of mousing you do by using keyboard shortcuts, but sometimes it also makes sense to change the way you mouse.

Switch Hands

My editing colleague, Adrienne Montgomerie, suggested I try mousing with my left hand. While that first day of mousing with my left hand was horribly inefficient, it did take the strain off my right hand. Sometimes, though, with the work I do, I need to be precise and controlled with my mouse movements (something my left hand cannot yet do), so I still need to use my right hand, at least some of the time.

Try New Hardware

If you change your hardware, you can change your hand position. So I set off in search of a different kind of mouse, and discovered the Genius Pen Mouse. It's not a traditional mouse—the kind you palm—but it's one you hold like a pen.

Initial Concerns

I'll admit it, I had some reservations about switching my mouse. Could my fingers and brain adapt? The reviews of the Genius Pen Mouse were mixed, and I wondered if I'd be bothered by having to put down and pick up my mouse each time I wanted to use it. For $40 (and prompted by my throbbing wrist), I decided to give it a try.

Pleasantly Surprised

When the pen mouse arrived (start viewing this video at the three-minute mark), it took me about ten minutes to set it up and learn how to use it.The instructions were clear and to the point, and the onscreen prompts were helpful.

It took a bit more time to get my fingers to coordinate the movements for right-clicking and scrolling (left-click is a breeze), and after two days of practice, I'm still developing the finger dexterity required to master the right-click. (If you've studied piano, you'll know what it's like to develop finger dexterity for specific movements). But I'm of the opinion that anything worth learning takes a bit of time and commitment.

Tip: Still can't master that right click? Another way to right click is to hold down the Ctrl key while you execute a single click.

Oh... and picking up and putting down the mouse didn't bother me at all.

Overall Impressions

My overall impressions? The Genius Pen Mouse is surprisingly precise and easy to control. I think it'll be particularly helpful for proofreaders who do PDF mark-ups because you have more control with it than a traditional mouse. It appears to be sturdy, and the price is fair.

In terms of helping with repetitive strain injury: changing hand positions is always a good idea. There's no doubt that I could develop hand strain with this mouse, too, but if I switch between my right and left hand (you can do this with the pen mouse), and switch my hardware to mix things up, I have yet another strategy for reducing hand and wrist strain.

Have you tried something other than a traditional mouse?