Agricultural Communications, Purdue University
An electronic newsletter with communication tips and information

February 1997

"Screen" Your Writing: Composing on a Computer

With email and the internet, you probably spend at least as much time writing for the computer screen as you do for paper. Even when your message is ultimately intended for paper, chances are you compose it on a computer.

This article discusses some of the things to beware of when you compose on a computer. They can make the difference between hitting your target--and missing it.

For one thing, once you're used to composing on a computer, the process can become so much smoother and easier than composing on paper that you write on and on--and on. So watch that tendency to get carried away by the ease of composing and pasting and adding words, or, better yet, reread your draft and prune it.

That's a form of editing, folks, and ALL writing should be edited, regardless of medium.

Editing (or at least proofreading) is particularly easy to forget with email. You're tempted to knock that message out and speed it on its way, not stopping to check for silly (and sometimes serious) errors.

Remember, you don't just email your buddies, who will overlook mistakes. You may be emailing people you want to impress (or at least with whom you don't want to embarrass yourself). And a simple typo, for instance, can be the difference between telling people a meeting is scheduled for February 26 or 27, or that it will start at 10:00 or 11:00. Yikes!

Composing on a computer also allows you to be a self-publisher. You have your own editor, with grammar and spell check, so why do you need someone else to look over your message before you send it or print it?

Grammar and spelling are important, all right, but they're not the only reasons to check your writing. Have you said what you wanted to say? Have you said it effectively, in a way that will reach your target audience? Have you said too little? Have you said too much?

Two rules are especially important if you are working on an important message that will be mass distributed.

  1. Allow time to put your message aside, so you can read it later with a fresh perspective.
  2. Allow time to have someone else read your message before you post it or send it.

In the next issue of "On Target," we will look at writing for the computer screen.

Grammar Trap: i.e. vs. e.g.

Having a hard time knowing when to use "i.e." and "e.g."? These two abbreviations can be confusing.

The abbreviation "i.e." means "that is." You use it when you want to restate something in other words.

Example: Save these abbreviations for parenthetical expressions (i.e., phrases in parentheses).

The abbreviation "e.g." means "for example." Obviously, you use it when you want to give examples.

Example: Some terms of the contract (e.g., wages and duration) have not been settled yet.

Helpful Hints: 1) As the example for "i.e." suggests, avoid using these abbreviations except in parentheses. And don't use them at all with audiences who might find them confusing. 2) Both "i.e." and "e.g." should be followed by a comma.

If there's a grammar (or usage) trap you'd like us to discuss or you have a tip that will help the rest of us avoid one, please let us know.

EMI On-Line

(Note to readers: This article is out of date. Educational Materials can be found by browsing our online Education Store for free and priced items.)

The Educational Materials Index (EMI) is available on-line. This comprehensive list of available Extension materials is updated weekly.

EMI Information

All of the titles in the EMI are alphabetized by key words. This means many titles appear more than once. The EMI also lists the alphabetized titles subdivided by department.

Besides the titles, the EMI also contains the following information. If the material is available in camera-ready or videotape form, "yes" appears in the appropriate column. "New" or "Rev." (revised) indicates the status of the material. Also included are the date of publication or last revision (with "????" indicating a work in progress), the retail price, and the item number to use when ordering.

Accessing EMI on the World Wide Web

To access the WWW from a county office, pull down the workspace menu, select "Internet Services," and then select "Netscape." Select the "Open" button, and type the following URL address:

Scroll down to the bottom of the page, and select "Educational Materials Index" by key word or by department.

I suggest adding this site to your Netscape bookmark.

Searching the On-Line EMI

If you have the capability to search the listing on-line, point the arrow on the "Find" icon at the top of the menu. A menu called "Netscape:Find" will appear. Enter the key word you want to search. If you want to display the word in either upper or lower case characters, make sure the "Case Sensitive" function is off. Then click on "Find." Continue to click on "Find" for the same key word.

Printing the On-Line EMI

It takes time and paper, but you can print a hard copy of the EMI as often as you like. And you can select either the key word listing or the departmental listing.

To save and print the EMI, follow three steps.

  1. In Netscape, click on "file" at the top of the menu. Point to "Save As" and click. In the "Save As" menu, the path and name of the file are listed at "Selection." You may keep the file name assigned to the file or rename the file. Then point and click on "OK."
  2. Open the "File Manager" and open the file. Remove any open lines at the top of the file. Then save and quit the file.
  3. Bring up an xterminal window. At the prompt, enter the following print command:

      postprint -pl -s9 -l54 -r1 -d(your printer name) (name of the file)

      Note: Lower case "L" in "pl" and "l54." Number "one" in "-r1." (Don't confuse them if you want results.)

      Example: You've saved a file and named it "FS," and you want to send the file to a printer named "aa5." Your print command would be:

      postprint -pl -s9 -l54 -r1 -daa5 FS

Please feel free to e-mail me or to call 765 494-6795 if you have problems with these instructions.

Writing Help on the Web

Those of you with easy access to the Web might want to try these sites for grammar and writing help of all kinds.

Purdue University On-line Writing Lab (OWL):

Find well over a hundred handouts on grammar and writing, including how to prepare the all-important resume. Get info on additional Web writing resources and on other OWL services.

The Slot--A Spot for Copy Editors:

Click on "The Curmudgeon's Stylebook" for simple, clear explanations of many grammar and usage questions. Maintained as a labor of love by Bill Walsh, copy desk chief of "The Washington Times."

A Web of On-Line Grammars:

Discover information about the grammars of languages from Akkadian to Welsh. Maintains links with on-line grammars of as many languages as can be found on the Web.

(Thanks to Terry L. McCain, formerly of the Office of Agricultural Research Programs, and to Ag Comm colleagues Becky Goetz and Steve Tally for sharing.)

We want to hear from you. Do you have a communication question? Do you have a comment on this issue of "On Target"? If so, please e-mail any of our writers.

It is the policy of the Department of Agricultural Communication Service of Purdue University that all persons shall have equal opportunity and access to its programs and facilities without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age or disability. Purdue University is an Affirmative Action employer. These materials may be available in alternative formats.