Not a complete digital convert

Jun 10 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Most things I do on a daily basis have become digital - I spend far more time touching a keyboard than a pen. On the whole, I'm fine with this change. I find PDF annotation to work well when reviewing manuscripts or grants and track changes is great for collaborative writing.

But the one time I just can't manage to avoid killing some trees is in the final stages of writing something. For me, I need to print the document out and see it in the broad sense - spread out the pages and make sure sections and ideas are where they should be. I can't confine that part of the process to a screen, even a large one.

I wonder if that will make me old fashioned in the years to come.

18 responses so far

  • physioprof says:

    When I turn around paper/grant drafts with the trainees in my lab, I always markup printouts with a pen.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I do the same in the early drafts with trainees. I'm talking about collaborative stuff or things I write myself, which are usually digital throughout most of the process.

  • Printing a grant or a paper when in its final stage is a must for me too. Mostly because I derive some kind of pleasure seeing all that -hopefully coherent- hard work laid out in full, and I like feeling the weight of a final draft stapled together.... Is that weird? Also, by my own doing, I often have to check references manually and I definitely need a print out and a marker pen for that.

  • stemdent says:

    When I'm writing anything "major" (a report for an REU, on my research, etc.) I need have a hard copy, if not begin with pen and paper... so I imagine I'll do the same as I progress through my career.

  • DJMH says:

    Onscreen makes it so much harder to flip back and forth between sections, too--e.g. if you want to flip back to the abstract to compare language in there to something in the discussion, it's just annoying to go back and forth electronically, especially multiple times.

    There's no substitute for the haptic feedback of paper, I think. Joining the FOF (future old fogies) club with you.

  • Jen says:

    I have to read everything in print - part of it is psychological (I need to spread everything out, as you mentioned) and part is physiological (I have some visual issues that make screen-reading a chore). I do feel guilty about tree-slaughter, and have tried to cut back as much as possible, but drafts (including the assignments my students turn in) must be in print.

  • +1. I've tried to teach myself to proofread / edit thoroughly on screen a couple of times now, but it just doesn't work for me. Besides, I can work on hard copies at my standing "desk" (a shelf on a book case), but can't do the same when I'm working on the computer, unless my institution suddenly discovers some hidden money and decides to buy me a real one.

  • FitAcademic says:

    I don't have to print out my writing (at least not usually) but I always always print tables and figures and frequently also stats output. Just need to in order to visualize the results, and I also find it makes the results and discussion easier to write.

  • rs says:

    no matter what you do, you will look old-fashioned in coming years anyway...

  • Dr. Noncoding Arenay says:

    I've been using computers and staring at monitors regularly since 1990. However, when it comes to making sure that a manuscript or any other draft is error-free, I usually need to print it. Somehow all that time staring at screens hasn't helped my eyes spot minor errors on the monitor. They just jump up at me on a hard copy.

    Btw, I'm in my 20s so I don't think it is necessarily old fashioned. But then I did use books to study, not apps or tablets like today's school kids. It'll be interesting to see how they feel about going 100% digital through all stages of draft prep.

  • Same for me. I can keep work on a draft for weeks as a digital format ( I am latex guy btw) but when I think I have done all the editing, I have to print out a hard copy to see all of it together. Then I have to print out more hard copies, since I can spot error on the hard copy and have to re-edit again and the cycle goes on 😛

    I am also in my 20's as some one else pointed out, I dont think it is old fashioned. I have been using monitors to do my work since early 90's. I am quire sure though that the new kids who use tablets for everything now think I am old fashioned 😛

  • Busy says:

    Just like you I still print the final version. However over the years I've noticed that as the quality of monitors goes up, the number of times I print the supposedly "final version" has gone down.

    The same applies for reading papers. Back in the day of low quality monitors I would print pretty much every paper I wanted to lay my eyes on. Today I only print those I will spend a substantial amount of time going over. Anything that will just be perused now stays on the screen.

    I can see that with the new retina display there will be a subset of papers which I will no longer print.

  • poke says:

    Read thoroughly or carefully.
    Examine carefully or at length.

  • Busy says:

    Quote from

    Traditionally, peruse has meant to read or examine something carefully. But informally, it can have the opposite meaning, to read something casually and quickly.

    To understand the two meanings, think about the way people like to talk about doing things thoroughly, even when they aren't. If you are visiting a library or a bookstore, you might find yourself perusing the shelves. Synonyms are browse and skim. Peruse is from Middle English perusen "to use up," from the Latin prefix per- "thoroughly" plus Middle English usen "to use."

    /end quote

    More modern usage dictionaries add "scan" as a secondary meaning of peruse.

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  • Barbara says:

    I need to have hardcopies somewhere in the rewriting and editing process. One reason is that I seem to catch different kinds of errors when reading the material in different forms. Another is that I can flip between sections more easily with paper copies than on the screen. I wonder whether young people who start out on computers will find these things true, or not -- or if it will ever occur to them to test the idea by printing hardcopies.

  • TheBrummell says:

    I thought I needed a hard copy for final editing, but the technical challenges of printing have eliminated that need. I *want* to edit on paper, I *want* to see my tables and figures and paragraphs on ordered cellulose, but I am always defeated by the machine tasked with converting a pattern of magnetic particles into a pattern of pigments.

    Printers suck. All of them. Who are you strange people who claim to have access to faultless, effortless, convenient printing? How often do you take your unicorn for a walk?

  • Eli Rabett says:

    You are old fashioned only if you save the paper and print the second draft on the other side.

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