The novelty effect: how switching to a different word processor can improve your writing

Originally published at: The novelty effect: how switching to a different word processor can improve your writing | Boing Boing


So in other words, a little “strange” keeps the fire going…


A favorite highschool english teacher told us to never shit on the same toilet twice in a row.

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This also applies to programming environments - Jupyter Notebook or PyCharm, for example

Nice try, Alison from IT, but I have tenure and I’m going to keep using WordPerfect 4.2 until I drop, so get used to it.


I see you used a photo of an old Microsoft Works CD to illustrate this article.

I just want to clarify this, in case anyone is curious about using Microsoft Works.

Switching to Microsoft Works will not improve anything. Ever.

Nothing has ever been improved by Microsoft Works.

It is a grab-bag of crud, crippled intentionally so that it can’t compete with Office, lacking in everything except mediocrity.

Remember: Friends don’t let friends use Microsoft Works.



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Robert J. Sawyer’s writing is just fine, and he’s never switched word processors. He still uses WordStar!


let me wax for a moment for WriteNow.

ok, I’m done.


Really!? I just get super irritated that my key bindings don’t work, then frustrated that the syntax highlighting has the wrong shade for comments, then I throw up my hands in disgust and go back to what I know. Changing development environments is a big deal. I’m currently trying to work out how to get all the vscode niceties without the vscode irritations.

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Rearranging the furniture now and then is almost like going on vacation.


Hmph. Don’t much care what novelty-effect research says, I like my work environment to remain stable and not get underfoot. I’ve been writing professionally since grad-school days (IBM Selectric), and via word processor since Magic Wand (on CP/M), eventually landing on WordPerfect 4.2. Been with it ever since. My earliest reviewing gigs in the 1980s dealt with word processing packages, so I’ve been around the block a couple times. And the first thing I do when I upgrade to a new version of WordPerfect is configure it so it is as close to my preferred setup as possible. (And WP makes it easy to do so.)

A word processing package is an instrument through which I write–I don’t want it getting in the way of producing and manipulating words. I can work with a basic text editor like EditPad, because it doesn’t muck about with getting text on the screen. But then, I’m not producing a camera/website-ready item–I’m writing prose. I don’t need publication- or typographer-level features, only enough control to make the shape of the text clear to my editors.

BTW, MS Word is a nightmare. Whenever I have to help my wife with some Word-based document (since the University and most publications demand Word format), I spend most of my time trying to figure out how to accomplish some simple task like getting a header to include and position page numbers, or getting rid of some unwanted global formatting command. (I had and discarded Word 1.0, and my opinion of it has only gotten worse over the decades.)

FWIW, I have the same kinds of problems with Windows in general–10 was a pain in the ass to tame, and it looks like 11 is going to be even worse. (And please hold back any recommendations that I switch to some flavor of Unix and run Libre Office, like forever.)


On the note of “pry it out of my cold dead hands” I think I have a particular knack for choosing, then holding onto software that is pioneering and arguably superior than the thing that ended up becoming the standard, and still miss after having to give it up.

  • GEM Desktop - at least until Windows 3.0 was a more capable GUI environment for DOS.
  • Ashton-Tate Framework II - multitasking and macro-automated integrated office suite way before MS Office, and still the only software I know where you can embed a word processing document inside a spreadsheet inside a word processing document (and on and on) in collapsible, hierarchical “frames.”
  • Corel DRAW - had much more intuitive typographic controls than Adobe Illustrator (and AI still lacks)
  • Outlook - just this part: natural language appointment creation, like “cancel subscription, in 31 days”, and being able to treat all your personal data as one big database you can slice and dice.
  • Palm Pilot - from pulling out from the pocket to making an appointment in 1 second.
  • Macromedia Fireworks - I used it well after Adobe put it out to pasture. There was nothing like its blend of pixels and vectors when it was killed, and there still isn’t UX design software that lets you sketch out interfaces quickly flipping through frames and states like it’s an animation.

I know a guy who stuck to Ecco Pro for at least a decade after its discontinuation, and I have to agree with him-- nothing out there lets you shuffle your work commitments and think about your ideas as fluidly and intuitively as Ecco Pro does. Even now. Maybe Omni Outliner got close.

My brother was the WordPerfect guy, but I held onto my copy of Word for Windows 3.0 until I couldn’t read others’ files.

I had a professor that swore by “retyping everything for your next draft” as It forces you to look at everything through carefully, and in those days, it probably meant you had to print out a hardcopy first.

Emphasis mine. Actually writing using your non-preferred writing tool is frustrating, the process of trying to input your ideas getting in the way of having them. He’s not suggesting that, though. Just for reviewing.

For properly different, though, nothing beats printing it out onto paper and revising it with a pen.

And what’s with a different WP showing the piece in a different font? Is he using Notepad?

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I enjoy switching mediums when drawing and painting.

I hate it when Adobe change some perfectly functional software to improve it (always without addressing the issues that have existed since it began).

That’s not the Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect is the phenomenon where people change their behavior in response to being noticed. It was ultimately concluded that workers’ awareness that they were being observed, rather than the change in lighting, was the cause of the increased productivity.


Nobody would do that, because you should switch to some flavour of Unix and run LaTeX.


Speak up, sonny–I can’t hear you over the combination of my tinnitus and the windup Victrola next to the kerosine lamp.

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Changing word processors is frustrating. All you have to do is change the font - serif to no serif works well. Changing the margins to make the pagination different can work.

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