Tag Archives: Writing

There’s Only One Way You Could Personally Visit an Exoplanet

Sorry, Han Solo and Mr. Sulu. Based on everything we know right now, you’ll never be able to punch a button and travel through “hyperspace,” or go to warp speed. Traveling faster than light is almost certainly impossible. According to scientists, the only way you could personally visit other stars is by taking a long, long nap.

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Handwrite Your Notes Instead of Typing Them for Better Memory Retention

Handwrite Your Notes Instead of Typing Them for Better Memory Retention

Typing on a keyboard (hardware or virtual) might be quicker than writing things out with pen and paper, but for learning and long-term memory, handwriting trumps the keyboard.

The Wall Street Journal discusses several studies that show students who took handwritten notes outperformed those who typed their notes on their computers:

Compared with those who type their notes, people who write them out in longhand appear to learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas, according to experiments by other researchers who also compared note-taking techniques.

It seems the problem is that when taking notes on our laptops, we can’t help but take notes by rotes, almost word by word. We take more notes more quickly at the computer, but don’t put as much thinking into them as we do when writing by hand.

Writing works better than typing because it stimulates and engages our brains more

http://lifehacker.com/5738093/why-yo…

So the next time you want to learn new information, ditch the keyboard and break out your paper notebook or write on your tablet.

Can Handwriting Make You Smarter? | The Wall Street Journal

Photo by birkancaghan.

Cleartext Limits Your Writing to the 1,000 Most Common Words in English

Cleartext Limits Your Writing to the 1,000 Most Common Words in English

Mac: Last year, XKCD’s Randall Monroe released Simple Writer, a web app that restricted your writing to the top 1,000 most commons words in the English language. If web apps aren’t your thing, Cleartext is a free Mac app that does the same thing.

Cleartext follows the same principle as Simple Writer: when you’re trying to explain something complicated, you want to use common language so more people will understand it. When you’re writing (sadly, Cleartext doesn’t support pasting text in), Cleartext highlights any word that isn’t in the top 1,000 most commonly used words to help you simplify what you’re trying to say. This can be useful when you’re preparing a presentation for someone outside your field, a big inter-office memo, or if you’re working on any other block of text you’re struggling to make readable. If you work in an industry with a lot of jargon, it can be helpful to highlight that jargon so you can come up with words everyone understands. As an app, Cleartext is a simple text editor, but it does support different fonts and text sizes alongside a full-screen mode. Regardless, Cleartext isn’t a tool you’ll use all the time, but it’s useful to keep around nonetheless.

Cleartext (Free) | GitHub

How to Master Microsoft Office Word

How to Master Microsoft Office Word

Microsoft Word is easily the biggest, most popular word processing program available, but it does a lot more than just edit text and TPS reports. If you’ve been telling yourself that you’ll finally learn Word’s ins and outs, now’s the time to actually learn how to edit styles, add a table of contents, and more.

This post is the first part of Microsoft Office Week, a series at Lifehacker where we offer tips to get started with or master Microsoft Office. Want more? Be sure to keep an eye on the Office Week tag page throughout the week.

Get Up and Running with Word Quickly

How to Master Microsoft Office Word

Of all of the Microsoft Office programs, Microsoft Word is probably the simplest from a user interface perspective. If you’ve ever used a word processing program in your life, you’ll recognize the menus for opening and creating files in the top left corner. The larger menu that runs across the top of the document Microsoft refers to as the “ribbon.” The ribbon has all the formatting tools you’ll need, as well as a few contextual commands that change depending on which tab you’re on.

For this series, we’ll assume you know the basics, but if you want a refresher, Microsoft’s quick start guide for Word gets you through the basics.

How to Do the Most Common, Essential Tasks in Microsoft Word

Of course, everyone’s needs are a little different, but considering most people use Office in an office setting, we’re willing to bet you’ll need to do things like edit styles, compare two documents, prepare a table of contents, and more.Let’s go ahead and cover some of those common tasks.

How to Apply and Edit Styles

How to Master Microsoft Office Word

A style in Word is a preset formatting for your document. This is what the document looks like, so it includes the font, font size, paragraph style, and so on. Creating or changing a style makes it possible to alter the look of a document all at once so you don’t need to go through and highlight individual sections and make specific changes. You can do things like set a universal heading style,or change what the default bulleted list looks like.

For example, if you’re working on a book, you might get a list of style guidelines from a publisher. Or if you’re working on weekly interoffice memos, a style is an easy to way to create a format guideline so every one you make looks the same way every time. Plus, you get the flexibility to change styles at any time, so if one department likes their memos one way, but your boss prefers a different style, you don’t have to change a bunch of formatting every time you open a new document.

To apply a style, make sure you’re on the Home tab, select a block of text in a document that you want to alter, and then click the Style menu in the ribbon. For example, if you want to make a heading in the middle of a block of text, you’d select the text you want as a heading, then click Styles > Heading 1. It’s as easy as that.

Making your own specific styles is pretty easy too. This is useful when you’re writing something consistently, like a newsletter or a book, and want a specific set of rules you can easily apply to a document as a whole. For example, you might want to change the font size of the default heading option, or change how creating a list works. Here’s how to do it:

  1. From the Home tab, click on Styles Pane.
  2. Click New Style or select the style you’d like to edit.
  3. You’ll get a pop up window to edit a number of parameters here, including type, basis, and formatting. Click through the options you want to change.

If you’re confused about what each term means, don’t worry, it’s pretty straightforward. Paragraph styles determine the look of the text on a paragraph level. When you apply this style, it’ll change the whole paragraph. Character styles determine the look on a character level, so you can make one word stand out. Table styles alter the look of tables, like the header row or how the grid lines work. Finally, list styles alter the look of a list, such as bulleted lists or a number scheme.

How to Add a Table of Contents to the Beginning of a Document

How to Master Microsoft Office Word

If you’re working with a big document, a table of contents adds quick navigation. Thankfully, creating a table of contents in Word is easy and it’ll update itself automatically as you add more to the document.

Word’s automatic table of contents generator takes each heading you add to a document, and then creates the table of contents based on that. If you plan on creating a table of contents, make sure you style each of your section titles with a heading.

  1. Click an empty paragraph where you want to insert the table of contents.
  2. Click the References tab.
  3. Click Table of Contents and then select the appearance you want to use.

That’s it. Word automatically updates that table of contents any time you add or alter a header.

How to Compare and Merge Two Documents

How to Master Microsoft Office Word

If you have two versions of a document, whether it’s because someone did edits in their own copy, a cloud backup failed, or if you’re just trying to hash out what exactly changed between two versions of the same thing, you’ll need to use the compare and combine functions.

If you just want to see what changes exist between two documents, you can compare them. Here’s how to compare two documents:

  1. Open one of the two documents you want to compare.
  2. Click Tools > Track Changes > Compare Documents.
  3. Pick your original document and revised document files.
  4. Type in a name under “Label changes with” text field so you can tell the difference between the two documents. This way, Word will add a note telling you where each change comes from.

Combining a document works the same way, but the end result is a single document that merges the contents of both documents together so everything that’s the same is overwritten:

  1. Open one of the two documents you want to combine.
  2. Click Tools > Merge Documents.
  3. Pick your original document and revised document files.

When the documents are merged, the differences between the two are highlighted. From here, you can go in and pick what you want to keep in the final version.

How to Format a Document Properly with Tab Stops and Indents

If you’re the type who formats a document by pressing spacebar or tab a bunch of times, it’s time to learn how to do it the right way: Using indents and tab stops. The video above shows off how tabs and indents work so it’s easy to understand, but let’s just sum up what the two terms actually mean.

How to Master Microsoft Office Word
  • Tab stops: A tab stop is the location a cursor stops after the tab key is pressed. In Word, it’s a way to easily align text. When you click the ruler in Word, a tab stop appears as a little curved arrow. When you tap the tab key, the cursor and text will jump to that arrow. If you add in multiple tab stops, you can make it so you can format text by simply tapping the tab key a couple of times to get it in place and perfectly lined up.
  • Indents: As the name suggests, indents determine the distance of the paragraph from the left or right margin. On the ruler, you’ll see two triangles that adjust the indentation. You can click either triangle and move it to change the indentation. The top triangle adjusts the indentation of the first line of a paragraph. The bottom triangle adjusts the indentation for subsequent lines (aka the hanging indent) in the paragraph. You can also click on the square below them to move both at the same time.

Learning how to use these indents and tab stops can make creating a document like a resume or academic paper a lot easier.

How to Add Citations and References

How to Master Microsoft Office Word

Academic papers are a beast to write, but Word makes creating bibliographies and citations super easy. Once you’ve created a new document and you’re writing that paper, you can add a citation with just a few clicks.

  1. Click the Reference tab.
  2. Click the Dropdown arrow next to Bibliography style and select the style you’re using for that paper.
  3. Click the end of a sentence or phrase where you want to add the citation.
  4. Click Insert Citation. In the Create New Source box, enter in all the info you need.

Once you enter a citation once, you can add additional citations from the same text by selecting a sentence, then clicking the Citations box and selecting the reference you want to insert. When you’re all done, click the Bibliography button and select either Bibliography or Works Cited to automatically generate the reference page for your paper.

The Best New Features in Word 2016

How to Master Microsoft Office Word

Word 2016 is a word processor—that means it doesn’t have to make giant, revolutionary leaps over its previous versions. However, Word 2016 does have a few improvements worth noting:

  • You can search the ribbon: In Windows, above the ribbon, you’ll see a “Tell me what you want to do” box. Here, you can type in any question you have and Word will tell you how to do it. For example, you can ask it how to insert a picture, how to format text in a specific way, or how to create lists. It’s basically a boring version of Clippy for the 21st century. For whatever reason, this isn’t included in the Mac version.
  • You can see collaborators edits in real time like in Google Docs: You’ve been able to work on Word documents as a team for a while, but Word 2016 adds in live edits, so you’ll see other people’s notes and updates instantly.
  • Smart lookup makes research a little easier: Word is now a little more connected to the web than it used to be. In Word 2016, you can right-click a word, then select “Smart Lookup” from the menu to look up a word’s definition, the related Wikipedia article, and top search results from Bing.

Other than those minor improvements, if you’ve used older versions of Word you’ll be right at home in Word 2016 within minutes.

Work Faster in Word with These Keyboard Shortcuts

Microsoft has full lists of every keyboard shortcut in Word for Windows and Word for Mac that are worth bookmarking,, but let’srun through some of the big ones you’re likely to use every day, and a few specific to word that are really useful:

  • CTRL+N/CTRL+O/CTRL+S: Create, Open, and Save a document.
  • CTRL+X/CTRL+C/CTRL+V: Cut, Copy, Paste
  • CTRL+B/CTRL+I: Bold, Italic
  • CTRL+A: Select All
  • CTRL+Z: Undo
  • CTRL+K: Insert a hyperlink
  • CTRL+P: Print a document
  • CTRL+H: Open Find and Replace
  • Shift+F3: Toggle Capitalization options
  • CTRL+SHIFT+C: Copies the formatting for selected text so you can apply it to another set of text with CTRL+Shift+V
  • CTRL+Shift+N: Applies the normal style to the selected text

Beyond that, Word supports universal text editing keyboard shortcuts like Shift+CTRL+Up/Down arrows to select whole paragraphs. These can make navigating and highlighting text a lot easier, and we’ve got a list of all of them here. If you use Word heavily, get to know these shortcuts, they will make your life better.

http://lifehacker.com/5321432/how-to…

Additional Reading for Power Users

Word’s a big program and we can’t cover everything here. Here are a few more guides to help you push the boundaries of what Word’s capable of.

Word might just look like a boring old text editor at a glance, but as you can see, it’s a lot more complex than most people give it credit for. Mastering it can take a long time, but once you have the basics and understand what’s possible in Word, you’ll be well on your way to being a Microsoft Word ninja.

Break Through Writer’s Block With the “Kindergarten Trick”

Break Through Writer's Block With the "Kindergarten Trick"

If you can’t seem to get the words flowing, this trick will make beating your writer’s block as easy as filling in the blanks. Sometimes you just have to go back to the basics. Way back.

Remember when you were in kindergarten and your homework was as simple as filling in the blanks in sentences? Stuff like “My favorite color is ____.” Brandon Turner at Entrepreneur suggests you do the same thing with your writing now to get over a writing dry spell:

We never struggled with writer’s block to answer those questions, right? The reason is that the topic was already defined, and all we needed to do was insert an answer! …the easiest way to overcome writer’s block is to make your work “fill in the blanks.” How? Through detailed outlining. And the more detail you put into your outline, the easier it will be to finally write.

Don’t just outline your story, essay, or blog post. Break every section down into specific beats then fill in the blanks. Eventually, you’ll find your flow again and the words will just keep coming.

http://lifehacker.com/six-ways-to-po…

4 Actionable Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block | Entrepreneur

Photo by jill, jellidonut… whatever.

Ulysses, the Powerful Text Editor for iPad and Mac, Is Now on iPhone

Ulysses is one of the best writing tools available for Apple devices and today it’s finishing off its trilogy with the release of the iPhone version of the app.

http://lifehacker.com/the-best-apps-…

If you haven’t used it before, Ulysses is something like a plain text editor, supercharged. At one end of the spectrum, it’s the same type of distraction-free Markdown editor that we’ve seen hundreds of. On the other, it’s a full suite of organizational tools to keep your writing in order. If you’ve used something like Scrivener before, then you’ll be right at home with Ulysses. The new iPhone version is basically just a smaller version of the Mac app, and it’s packed in as a universal app with the iPad version, so if you already purchased that, you’ll have the iPhone version too.

http://lifehacker.com/ulysses-is-a-p…

The iPhone version supports dark and light writing modes, text statistics, writing goals, a number of Markdown tools, photos, and more. The iPhone version (alongside the iPad one) is just as feature-rich as the desktop app, which is a feat in itself. Ulysses is pricey for a mobile app for sure, but if you want to get a taste of how the app works, you can check it out for free on a Mac.

Ulysses ($19.99) | iTunes App Store


How to Write Short: Master Word Craft In the Digital Age

How to Write Short: Master Word Craft In the Digital Age

Whether you identify as one or not, everyone is a writer. Between social networks, dating profiles, blogs, and the day-to-day tasks of most jobs, writing is an essential skill. In How to Write Short, author Roy Peter Clark illustrates the value of brief, short-form writing in our technology-driven world, and shows you how to do it right.

This is part of Lifehacker’s book review series. Not every life hack can be summed up in a blog post, so we’ve decided to review some of our favorite life-changing books for deeper dives into life’s most important topics.

Roy Peter Clark has taught writing for nearly 40 years at the Poynter Institute, one of the world’s most prestigious journalism schools, where he is also vice president and senior scholar. He has also authored or edited seventeen books about writing and journalism, including Writing Tools, the Glamour of Grammar, Help! For Writers, and most recently, The Art of X-Ray Reading. Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but with How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times, Clark taps into a lifetime of writing and teaching experience to show you that just a few words can be worth a thousand pictures.

Who This Book Is For

You can find out if this book is for you with two questions:

  1. Do you ever write anything?
  2. Do you want practical advice from an expert on how to write better?

If you’re unsure, let me help. The answer to the first question is “yes.” You probably write every day. Maybe it’s a loving text message, a snarky blog comment, or a status update about where you are, and what you’re thinking or feeling. Either way, you’re the exact kind of writer that this book is aimed to. Sure, journalists, bloggers, novelists, and marketers can all benefit from Clark’s lessons here, but it’s not exclusive to career writers by any means.

http://lifehacker.com/the-most-impor…

The second question is one you have to answer yourself. But it’s a lot easier to answer when you know that well crafted writing can help you better communicate with friends and family, sell yourself to others, write better reports, take clearer notes, and even make you funnier. So, is this book for you? Yes.

What You’ll Get

How to Write Short is broken up into two major sections: “How to Write Short,” followed by “How to Write Short With a Purpose.” The first section is comprised entirely of tips, advice, and lessons to help you write better titles, logs, reports, headlines, sales pitches, letters, notes, emails, or any other short forms of writing. There are 22 brief chapters in this section, and each one has a title that explains exactly what you’ll cover. You’ll learn how to study the shorter writings of professional writers like essays, poems, and even tweets so you can improve your own, how to find the main focus of a piece of writing and pull out the most important information, and how other people read at a glance (and what that means for your own writing). You’ll also go over some of the most effective methods for saying a lot with a few words, how to choose your words wisely, and how to cut out the extra words you use, all while seeing examples from professional writers for you to emulate. Here are a couple examples of chapters you’ll find in this section:

  • In “No dumping,” you’ll learn that all writing can benefit from a set of formal writing practices, even in an informal context. Even simple messages like emails, text messages, and Facebook status updates can be better understood and appreciated when you craft your words instead of dumping them—regardless of whether you use slang, abbreviations, or other idioms. More importantly, you’ll see that crafting your words doesn’t take much longer than dumping them.
  • In “Cut it short,” you’ll learn that there is always something you can cut from your writing without undoing the message. You’ll learn what the usual suspects for cutting are, like adverbs, adjectives, intensifiers, etc. You’ll also learn a few simple rules (with examples) to follow when you go over what you’ve written.

In the second section, “How to Write Short With a Purpose,” you’ll learn the why of it all, and how to apply solid short-form writing to the real world. There are 13 chapters in this section, each covering a different aspect of life where writing is always present. You’ll learn how short-form writing can be used to enshrine those you’ve lost or admire, how to make your writing funnier by cutting to the punchline, how to sound wiser through the efficient use of words and sentence construction, and even how to write better dialogue. Here are a couple examples:

  • In the chapter “Crack wise,” you’ll learn how to study good jokes and apply the same principles to your writing. You’ll see why brevity really is the soul of wit, how to use juxtaposition to craft better zingers, and that the laugh-provoking word is often at the end of a humorous quip.
  • In the chapter “Sell,” you’ll learn how few words it takes to make your ideas, products, or service sound great. You’ll go over famous slogans and ads, and break them down to understand why short and sweet is ideal to stand out and earn staying power in someone’s mind.

Every chapter in the book offers writing examples from real writers (from Oscar Wilde to Dave Barry) to explain and support the lesson. At the end of each chapter are useful notes, or a summary of the most important information in each chapter, as well as quick writing exercises to help you practice the tips. It may be tempting to skip ahead to the second half of the book where all of the real-world application stuff is, but start at the beginning and work your way through. Clark builds you up to that section with the basics intentionally, and references the things you learn in the first section.

http://lifehacker.com/how-to-develop…

One Trick You’ll Take Away

In the chapter “Entice,” Clark explains how short-form writing can be used to sell yourself better on resume cover letters, entry essays, and even online dating profiles. It all breaks down into three steps:

  1. The Pitch: Where the writer attempts to stand apart from the masses in a sentence or two at the top.
  2. The Lure: Where the writer compiles evidence (anecdotes, preferences, humor) that he is worthy.
  3. The Catch: Where the writer ends with an irresistible call to action.

Essentially, you have 10 seconds to grab a reader’s attention, and then earn more of it after that. It’s just like a pop song—you want to hit them with a catchy hook early on. Once you have their attention, bring in the lyrics, or the reasons you’re worth their time. Remember, the first few sentences can make or break you. Keep things brief and simple.

http://lifehacker.com/how-to-craft-a…

Our Take

How to Write Short is a rare book. It’s certainly an essential addition to any writer’s library, but it’s also a practical guide for everyone who tweets, comments, has to email people at work, or sends a few text messages every day.

There are tips here that apply to all modern walks of life, and Clark’s language is clear enough that anyone can follow along. You don’t need to be a grammar snob to get something out of it. The tips presented aren’t difficult to put into practice either. In fact, a lot of the tips will rub off on you almost immediately after reading them. I can barely write this damn review because I’m so tempted to say something like “book is useful, not just for writers, worth a read.”

The author also follows his own advice throughout, which is perhaps my favorite thing about the book. Everything is concise and whittled down to the essentials. At no point did I feel like I was mindlessly scanning through useless factoids, or slogging through dull personal stories that had no relation to the subject. Clark injects his personality, wit, and the occasional personal reference for examples, but the book is in no way about him. The book isn’t terribly short either, but it breezes by because each section is so easily digestible. This makes the book feel like a true-to-form guide, from a real expert, that’s filled to the brim with practical advice that can be easily referenced. I would write more about it, but I’m practicing what I learned.

http://lifehacker.com/how-twitter-s-…

You can buy How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times in paperback for $12 or on Amazon Kindle for $10.

http://www.amazon.com/How-Write-Shor…


“The Most Dangerous Writing App” Destroys Your Progress if You Stop Typing

“The Most Dangerous Writing App” Destroys Your Progress if You Stop Typing

The blank page is a common, intimidating hurdle for writers. Sometimes it helps to just start typing your first draft, allowing words to flow without over-thinking them. This app will help you do just that, namely because if you don’t, it will delete any and all of your progress.

http://lifehacker.com/write-your-fir…

“The Most Dangerous Writing App” is a web app for writing that deletes all of your progress if you stop for too long. You can choose a time for your session, from five minutes to a straight hour. The app gives you a short countdown warning when it’s about to delete everything.

It’s probably not ideal for essays, research papers, or articles, but it’s fun for freewriting, brainstorming, or just brain dumping. Sure, it may be more gimmick than it is a serious writing app, but it’s fun to try nonetheless. Give it a whirl at the link below.

http://lifehacker.com/the-value-of-a…

The Most Dangerous Writing App | via Product Hunt


“The Most Dangerous Writing App” Destroys Your Progress if You Stop Typing

“The Most Dangerous Writing App” Destroys Your Progress if You Stop Typing

The blank page is a common, intimidating hurdle for writers. Sometimes it helps to just start typing your first draft, allowing words to flow without over-thinking them. This app will help you do just that, namely because if you don’t, it will delete any and all of your progress.

http://lifehacker.com/write-your-fir…

“The Most Dangerous Writing App” is a web app for writing that deletes all of your progress if you stop for too long. You can choose a time for your session, from five minutes to a straight hour. The app gives you a short countdown warning when it’s about to delete everything.

It’s probably not ideal for essays, research papers, or articles, but it’s fun for freewriting, brainstorming, or just brain dumping. Sure, it may be more gimmick than it is a serious writing app, but it’s fun to try nonetheless. Give it a whirl at the link below.

http://lifehacker.com/the-value-of-a…

The Most Dangerous Writing App | via Product Hunt


Write!, the Elegant Distraction-Free Writing App, Comes to the Mac

Write!, the Elegant Distraction-Free Writing App, Comes to the Mac

OS X: Write!, a good-looking writing tool (previously Windows-only), now has a Mac version that brings all of its best features over, including auto-saving, cloud-synced documents, offline editing, day and night editing themes, unlimited undo, and more.

http://lifehacker.com/write-is-a-dis…

Everything that made Write! great in Windows is available on the Mac. Even when offline, Write! autosaves everything you do, and lets you undo as many times as you like, even across computers. If you pick up where you left off on your Windows PC, you’ll be able to undo the last thing you did—or the last ten things—you did on your Mac. The app features smarter auto-complete, which can suggest words based on your typing history, supports Markdown, Wiki, and Textile syntax if you’re into them, and can be tweaked to run in a thin, menuless tabbed interface or a more Word-like menu-rich UI depending on what you prefer.

In addition to basic editing features, Write! also lets you publish your documents right to your social accounts, or email them privately from within the app. It even has a high-focus mode where it fades out everything—including other paragraphs in your document—so you focus right on what you’re writing, right now.

Write!, the Elegant Distraction-Free Writing App, Comes to the Mac

Write! is free, and most of its features are free, but many (like cloud saving and unlimited undo) are only free for a trial period after you sign up. After that, if you want them (and you don’t need them to use the app, but they are useful,) you’ll need to sign up for a ($5/mo) Pro account. Hit the link below to create an account and give the new version a try.

Write!