You've been working on the rough draft of your essay for hours. You keep stumbling over your words and you can't seem to find the perfect way to express yourself. As tempting as it is to delete that whole line of text, don't! Instead, use your tools! Here are three ways to take advantage of writing on a computer.
1. Jump Around
Nothing says you have to write your essay in order. In fact, nearly all my students tell me that introductions and conclusions are the hardest parts of essays to write. So, skip the intro and start in on one of your body paragraphs. If you have done your homework on your outline, you should know the focus of each supporting paragraph. Maybe you can hammer out all of your topic sentences at the same time, and then return and fill in your concrete details and analysis. Even better: write your topic and concluding sentences for each paragraph as a pair so you make sure they match (and so you don't forget that all-important concluding sentence at the end of the paragraph).
2. Mark It and Leave It
You may be staring into the dark, scary visage of a sentence you know is awkward. You know you don't like it, but you have tried several times to revise it, and you are stuck. Just mark it, and move on. Try using the highlight feature, or even turning on Track Changes and writing a little comment about why you don't like this phrasing, so you'll know what to fix when you return. Try to finish the whole draft. It's called "rough" for a reason. It won't be pretty, but all of your thoughts will be in one place, ready for you when you start to revise.
3. Cut It and Paste It
That summary of events may not belong where you have it, but odds are it belongs somewhere in your essay. Avoid the frustration of rewriting something you already wrote and then erased. Cut words, sentences, and even big chunks of paragraphs and paste them into storage at the bottom of the document. This strategy works especially well if you got stuck during outlining and your thoughts are not really in order. Just write out your ideas first, then move them to the right places later.