Use low magnification for writing, high for editing

Some people can write a perfect outline, then write neatly ordered paragraphs with nothing but that outline as a guide. Each bit links to the next, every sentence, every transition, every comma in perfect place. Their writing is a joy to read, provided this excellent structure also has something interesting to say.

Some people need to write the paragraphs before they can order them. Somehow the information will flit away, or an outline will not capture the true topic. They may have a good idea of the overall structure, but be enticed by delicious side courses. Where should they go? Which ones are needed for the main theme, which are peripheral, and which need to make acquaintance with the electronic trash can?

Most of us are inbetween. We write with an outline that is jettisoned fairly frequently. We try to keep peripheral paragraphs to a minimum, but sometimes it is better to put them down, and then see if they fit.

So, what does all this have to do with the magnification you use while writing? I think you should use a low magnification for the early drafts when you form the structure. If you can see several paragraphs at once, you can see the linkages that need to be made. The pieces are in front of you, begging for an order, if you look at the work at 80% to 125% size, at least in Word.

But once you are happy with the structure, once you think your piece says what you want it to say, communicates what you want it to communicate, then you need to look at the details. This is best done at 150% or even 200% or more. Then the errors, the awkward writing, the places another word would do better, just jump out at you. Here are some examples from a piece I wrote on Christmas Bird Counts.


This is the small type. I show four paragaphs that can be examined for linkages. I don’t know if you like the indirect linkages between paragraphs here, or not. But at this size, I was able to think about them and make them conscious. Once that is done, I want to polish every sentence, so I change the magnification of my Word document and let every error shriek.


At this size, there are things I would change. I would take out the comma before “and,” as an example. I did that twice incorrectly, just in this small piece. I would take out “anxiously” for the killdeer’s call. Too trite.

When I read my student’s papers, I use the two magnification system also. The first few times, I read for the general structure to discover how the paragaphs flow and whether the main ideas are captured and explained. Then I blow it up and try to find every typo for them. Somehow those small errors seem more important when they are huge!

Have fun writing. Remember to worry about the structure and about the details, and let your magnification size help!


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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1 Response to Use low magnification for writing, high for editing

  1. Liz Haswell says:

    This is exactly right! I used to print out my drafts to get the big picture because I couldn’t seem to do it onscreen, but now I just look in multiple page mode to get a sense of the paragraph transitions.

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