Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Homework-eating dogs

"And then, when I tried to print my essay, it disappeared!"

The technology of word-processing has made available a rich array of explanations, fictional and non-fictional, for students in difficulty with deadlines. Most teachers and professors have grown tired of these explanations, so that even a genuine one is likely to ring false. Truly, the computer has become the high-tech version of the dog that ate the homework. Here are four ways to avoid problems when you're writing with a computer:

1. Plan ahead. If you're working in a computer lab, make sure that you set aside enough time for computer use. If you're using a computer and a printer of your own, have a spare printer cartridge and plenty of paper available.

2. If you do all your writing at the computer, print out a draft at frequent intervals. You can conserve paper and ink by choosing "fast" or "everyday" mode and by printing two pages per sheet of paper.

3. Save your work frequently, to a hard drive and a USB flash drive.

If you use Microsoft Word, click on Tools, Options, and Save, and set Auto Recover to save your work-in-progress every few minutes automatically. (If you use another word-processing program, look for the equivalent feature.) If you click on Tools and don't see Options, expand the pull-down menu by clicking on the little arrow at the bottom. (You can change the menu permanently by going to Tools, Customize, Options, and clicking on "Always show full menus.")

It's still possible to run into problems when using Auto Recover, so hit Control-S (on a Mac, Command-S) every few minutes to save your work to your hard drive. Then copy the file to your USB gadget.

An additional tip: save your word-processed work in rich text format, so that it's available to virtually any word-processing program.

4. Save your work online, by sending your draft to your e-mail address as an attachment. It's also smart to make a secure space online where you can store all your academic work for easy access. Michael Arrington's survey can get you started.

And now, even in a worst-case scenario — your computer stolen, your USB gadget lost, your drafts eaten by a dog! — you can still get to your work.

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