- By Jason Bacot
- Published 11/29/2010
Word processors changed term papers for the better forever, as anyone who had to use a typewriter can tell you. They can format your work properly in a flash, catch basic errors, and help you get the length right. But they can’t turn a bad term paper into a good one. Here is a rundown of what your word processing program can and can’t do to help you with your term papers. Word processing programs can help you with these three basic things: 1. They can help you catch spelling mistakes. In fact, some word processors will fix spelling mistakes and common typographical errors for you. But the dictionaries built into most word processors aren’t infinite, and they won’t catch everything. Be sure to double check anything with a squiggly line under it. 2. They can catch basic grammatical mistakes. Subjects that don’t agree with verbs are caught by most word processors, as are basic usage mistakes. However, not all of them will catch things like if you used “you’re” when you should have used “your” and the like. 3. They can tell you how long your term paper is. If you’re on your way to 1,000 words, you can stop along the way and see how far you have to go. Sometimes it’s discouraging, but you need to know. There are some other things that word processing programs cannot help you with, however. 1. They can’t tell you if your sentences are too long. Sometimes, however, a sentence will be long enough to confuse the grammar checker and will end up with a long squiggly line under it. If this happens to you even though a sentence is grammatically correct, it’s a hint that your sentence should be broken up. 2. They can’t tell you if a paragraph has run on too long and should be broken down. If a paragraph for your term paper goes on for a page and a half, it’s probably too long. Look for natural breaks in logic to break it up into two or three paragraphs. 3. They can’t tell you if you’ve veered off-topic. Once you have a topic, a title, and perhaps an outline, you need to stick with it. Word processing programs can do a lot these days, but they can’t tell you if you’ve gone off on a tangent.
The bottom line is that you should most certainly take advantage of the help your word processor can offer you. But just because you’ve corrected everything that had a squiggly line under it doesn’t mean your paper will earn high marks. You have to ask yourself honestly whether you’ve stuck to the topic and fulfilled the requirements your instructor has given you. You need to read your work and see if it flows, if your sentences are too choppy or too long, and whether your arguments are cohesive. Maybe someday word processors will be able to help you stay on-topic and keep your arguments tight, but today, you still have to do that yourself.