An American Editor

April 15, 2010

It’s the Little Things: Hardware

In a previous article, I raised the topic of the little things in editing that can make editing quicker, more accurate, and more profitable, but I didn’t begin discussing the actual tools I use. With today’s article I begin that discussion.

Although most of the tools are software, we do need to begin with hardware. I don’t plan to discuss the innards of a computer or whether one should buy a laptop or a desktop, although my experience with both indicates that editing on a desktop is more efficient for me. But there are a couple of pieces of hardware that are worthy of note: monitors and XKeys.


When I first began electronic editing, more than 20 years ago, color monitors were not available. The monitors were black and white (or green or amber), were small, and were heavy CRTs (cathode ray tubes). Using a single monitor at a “large” screen size of 12 inches meant investing a ton of money into a single piece of hardware. How times have changed.

The advent of LCD monitors with large screens has been a boon to editing. Instead of seeing a few lines of text, one can see a page, get a better feel for context. LCDs have two other bonuses: small size (compared to the equivalent CRT) and, today, a low price.

As I have noted in other articles, I read a lot of “stuff” and I read, years ago, the results of a productivity study that showed that using 2 monitors nearly doubled productivity and using 3 monitors increased productivity by another 20% or so (the third monitor stat is from memory and may be off, but the study did show an increase in productivity over 2 monitors), and there was yet still another increase with 4 monitors but it was a less dramatic increase than third monitor increase.

I can attest at least to the 3-monitor productivity increase (I wanted 4 monitors but just couldn’t find room for #4). I have used a 3-monitor setup in my work for years and would not consider returning to anything less. I need to mention, however, that I do not think just any monitor will do. I have found that the best monitors for my work are monitors that pivot between portrait and landscape modes.

My set up uses three 24-inch pivoting LCD monitors (I happen to like Samsung monitors and the 3 monitors are the Samsung SyncMaster 2443BWT model). The left monitor is almost always in portrait mode as is the center monitor; the right monitor is usually in landscape. But should I need all in portrait or a second in landscape, I just need to rotate them.

The 3-monitor setup lets me logically divide my work. Here is how I usually have my work setup. On the left monitor is the manuscript I am editing. Portrait mode lets me see a page (or close to it) at a time. The center monitor is where my Internet access is located. I use an online collaborative stylesheet system that operates through my website, so this gives me access to the stylesheet (always up) and to Internet resources if I need to check things. On the right monitor I put my local resources, such as an electronic specialty dictionary or word book, and the manuscript references or bibliography. Just by moving my head or my mouse, I have instant access to all the editing resources I need.

Compare this to editing on a single monitor. Think about how much time has to be spent going between screens, and if you use the landscape orientation so that you can “split” the screen and have, say, a manuscript and the stylesheet visible at all times, what you are seeing is less than what I can see and requires more scrolling time.

So that little thing of have at least 2 monitors boosts productivity and efficiency greatly.


Xkeys is equally as valuable, perhaps even more so, as the 3-monitor setup. I use, and have used for at least 10 years, the 58-key professional PS2 model. When I originally bought my XKeys, only the PS2 model would retain its programming in a power failure. This appears to no longer be the case. (One other important note: XKeys sells its own macro software. I have never used it or bought it, so I have no opinion about it. I use with my XKeys macro software called Macro Express, which I will discuss when I discuss software.)

XKeys sits to the left of my keyboard in a place of honor. It has increased my productivity many times over (I’ll say by 1000% but I really have no idea of the percent). I have programmed the XKeys for “odd” key combinations, such as Ctrl+Alt+Shift+F1, as well as for familiar combinations such as F1.

XKeys increases the number of key combinations available for macros by 58 because you can add hard-to-press combinations to a single key. (Actually, if I wanted, my XKeys Pro can handle 114 key combinations. It really is a 2-layer device, but to access the second layer and return to the first layer requires additional key presses, so I have never bothered). When I discuss software, I will go into more detail about the advantage of XKeys, but suffice it to say that I can now, with the press of a single button, run a macro or apply a style. It is much quicker than using a keyboard combination or the mouse.

But here is the most important part of XKeys — I can create a custom “keyboard” for each client or project type or project without reprogramming the XKeys! I have certain macros that I use for every client and every project, such as my Toggle macro, which is part of my EditTools software. So I have permanently assigned a particular XKey button to that macro. I don’t even have to divert my eyes from the manuscript to press the key. Habit takes over. The point is that every “custom keyboard” I create has certain macros preassigned to it, and it is only the remaining buttons that need to be assigned.

And because XKeys is just running the programmed key combination, I can assign to that key combination either a macro from within a program such as Microsoft Word or via Macro Express. XKeys is also program-neutral; that is, I have custom keyboards not only for clients and projects, but also for programs, such as InDesign.

XKeys and a 3-monitor setup are important allies for me in my never-ending quest to improve my accuracy and efficiency, which will translate to an improved bottom line. In subsequent articles I will discuss some of the software I use and how I use them as part of my striving to be the best editor I can be and provide my clients with the best editing available.

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