Why does having a non-editable preview make writing on a computer so awesome?
June 10, 2012 3:29 PM   Subscribe

When leaving a comment on mefi, does looking at that "live preview" window below the edit box make you a better writer too? What's up with that?

Some websites, like mefi and stackexchange, have "live-preview" windows right below the edit-boxes that show what you're typing in a non-editable format in real time. I always thought that these things were just there to show the final results of any formatting, but I've slowly been realizing that they have a (possibly unintended) secondary function.

I find that I'm more effective at catching bad wording and muddy reasoning if I focus my attention on the non-editable preview box instead of the text box.

Today, I realized just how far this went when I was editing a smallish essay on the couch on my android tablet. When I needed to change something, I would put the google docs app in edit mode and peck out the changes. Then, I would go back to "critical reading" by leaving edit mode, which would put the app in a zoomed-out blog-like kind of view. After doing this for a while I realized that there was technically no need to ever exit out of edit mode, but I was doing it automatically anyway. Somehow not being in "edit mode" made me a better critical reader.

My question is - does anyone else get this feeling, or am I crazy?

If I'm not crazy - then why is this happening? Is there some sort of psychological name for this effect? I would love to understand what's going on, as I design software, and consciously applying this effect could be very useful.
posted by tempythethird to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would speculate that, while typing, our mind views the edit window document as an incomplete work, still in edit mode, and therefore our mind's critique of it isn't as critical. However seeing your work in a "final product" mode (as in the live preview window) might be more likely to prompt your mind to be more astute and aware of errors/formatting/wording/etc. Sort of that "oh damn" second after you've punched the submit button and then see the error.

I don't work that way here on Metafilter, the preview box is something I glance down at instead of watching as I type, but, now that you've mentioned it, I may try that out.

I do know that when I'm composing something at work, I do final edits better from a printed copy than from the digital document, probably for this same reason.
posted by HuronBob at 3:48 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, I definitely get this feeling too. No, you're not crazy, unless we both are. Posting a comment on a site that doesn't have this sort of Preview function feels reckless and bold. Sorry, I don't know anything about the psychology behind it. Hope we learn!
posted by Corvid at 3:50 PM on June 10, 2012

Mod note: This appears to be a general question using Metafilter as an example. As such, it's totally fine here. Carry on.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 4:21 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthed.

I get this feeling all the dang time when I'm writing my own stuff, for suresville — I toggle into Print Preview frequently, or I c/p into an email and email it to myself. Plus (I'm an editor) I find I do my best editing work when I either print the work out (sorry, trees) or switch into a formatted read-only mode.

Back when I edited books, I'd frequently set the page dimensions in Word to be the same trim size as the final books were planned to be, as well. It helped things feel more "real," in a way — but I also read them differently (more critically in some ways, more generously in others) when they felt more proximate to their final state.
posted by firstbest at 8:58 PM on June 10, 2012

Having it there certainly helped me catch more tyops, if I remember to use it.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:20 AM on June 11, 2012

The live preview doesn't help my writing, but I do find that it enables me to catch a lot more typos. (The same applies to the non-live previews I encounter on other sites.)

I'm not sure whether that's because the preview is more legible than my typed text in the entry box or whether it's just the fact that the formatting is different and thus enables my brain to see the words in a fresh way.
posted by tdismukes at 11:52 AM on June 11, 2012

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