Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Online chatting is good for your typing skills

I’ve mentioned before that I used to be a big online chatter. I would have ICQ and MSN Messenger running, and be having 2 or 3 conversations at once, while still maintaining an active presence in a chatroom.

One of the things that chatting did for me was help me to type better. When I was “in my prime”, I could type blazingly fast—which you need to do, if you’re going to maintain that many conversations at once.

And then I did something which, for some strange reason, killed my typing skills: I wrote a book. Typing out that book—or at least, the 50% of it that I wrote—drastically reduced my typing abilities. I have a couple of theories as to why that might be:

First of all, when you write a book, you have to slow yourself down, and think about what you’re writing, instead of just throwing out messages as fast as your fingers can go, like you do when chatting.

Second, it was a technical book, about XML, so I had to keep breaking the flow of my writing, to type out computer gibberish, and then go back to regular typing. So, for example, consider the following:

Because the <name> element has only other elements for children, and not text, it is said to have element content. Conversely, because <first>, <middle>, and <last> have only text as children, they are said to have simple content.

For all of those < and > characters, and the stuff in between, I had to stop typing normally, and do it character by character, and then apply the right formatting (using Word styles—some day I’ll finish my book on Word), and then go back to typing normally.

I was surprised, when I went back to chatting online, to find that it had affected my typing so much, and that I had slowed down so much. I couldn’t maintain as many conversations at once as I once had. But, there are some tricks you can use, to type a bit faster. I was at Jer’s house recently, and I showed him some of these tricks, and I thought I’d share them with you, too.

When typing text in most Windows-based applications—including most chat clients, along with MS Word, or even Notepad—you can use the following keyboard shortcuts to speed things up.

ShortcutDescription
BackspaceEveryone knows this one; this will delete the character to the left of the cursor
DelEveryone knows this one, too; this will delete the character to the right of the cursor
Ctrl+BackspaceThis will delete the word to the left of the cursor. It doesn’t work in every application, so you might have to experiment, to see if it does. For example, it doesn’t work in Notepad, but it does in MSN Messenger.
Ctrl+DelThis will delete the word to the right of the cursor. This one will also take some experimentation; for example, it works in MSN Messenger, but in Notepad it works differently, and deletes the entire rest of the line, to the right of the cursor.
Home and EndMore common ones; position the cursor at the beginning or end of the current line
Ctrl+Home and Ctrl+EndMoves the cursor to the beginning or end of the “document”, whatever that document might be. e.g. in Word, it will move the cursor to the beginning or end of the Word document, and in MSN Messenger, it will move the cursor to the beginning or end of the little box where you type your message.
Ctrl+A“Select All”—selects all of the text in the “document” (or chat window message, or whatever).
left and right arrow keysYou can’t get more common than these keys; they move the cursor one character to the left or right
Ctrl+ left and right arrow keysMove the cursor one word to the right or left.
up and down arrow keysYou can’t get more common than these keys; they move the cursor one line up or down
Ctrl+ up and down arrow keysNot as commonly implemented, but will sometimes move the cursor one paragraph up or down. In fact, it might only work in MS Word, or other major word processing applications.
Shift+ left and right arrow keysAllow you to select text, without having to use the mouse, one character at a time
Ctrl+Shift+ left and right arrow keysAllow you to select text, without having to use the mouse, one word at a time

There are probably others I use on a regular basis, but I do it without thinking about it, so they’re not springing to mind as I type this.

In addition, learning other application-specific keyboard shortcuts will help you speed things up. The more you can use the keyboard, meaning that you don’t have to keep moving your hand to the mouse and back, the better. So, for example, I never click the Send button in MSN Messenger, I just use Enter instead. (Or Ctrl+Enter for ICQ.)

And, of course, for most of the common emoticons I use on a regular basis, I have the keyboard shortcuts memorized, and I find it’s quicker to type them out then to navigate through the visual point-and-click interface to find them. And, for the ones I don’t know, when I have to use the point-and-click interface, I glance at the keyboard shortcuts when I select them; if you use one often enough, you’ll start to remember it.

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