Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Expand your view!

No matter if your writing project is bit or small, you'll benefit by having more than one monitor.

After hearing about another textbook author who had a two-monitor setup several years ago, I couldn't believe that such a setup would have any benefits . . . other than taking up too much desktop space.  But the image of such a setup lingered in my imagination for many months, and I began thinking of all kinds of reasons how a 2-monitor spread could my life a lot easier.

For example, I could actually SEE the various windows that I often keep open while writing or revising a set of chapters:
  • Chapter file window - main text I am working
  • Glossary file window (to update as I add new terms or change old terms)
  • End of chapter window (to update as I revise the main text)
  • Browser window (for research)
Imagining that such a setup would be prohibitively expensive and overly complicated to install, I decided to actually investigate the possibilities.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was CHEAP and EASY!

Because most computers have built-in graphics cards that already have connectors for two monitors, I found that all I needed was another monitor. And these days good quality monitors are relatively inexpensive. So all I had to do was get another monitor and plug it in!

The hardest part — and it wasn't very hard – was tweaking the settings for the display in the control panel of my computer. But guess what? Windows (and I assume the Mac OS) already anticipates the use of multiple monitors, so it's a matter of selecting from choices that are already programmed into the system.  It was a snap.

It really only takes a few minutes — believe it or not!

After a couple of years of using two monitors, I decided to add a third monitor. This took a little more effort — but not much. I purchased a second graphics card, selecting a relatively inexpensive one from an online vendor. That gave me two additional connectors for monitors. I did have to open up my computer case and install a graphics card, but that's a lot simpler than it sounds. Then I simply plugged in my third monitor, reset the display settings in the control panel, and I was good to go.
Click here to see my original 3-monitor setup, with standard 19" LCD monitors set up in landscape orientation.

I've considered using a fourth monitor but I think I would be overwhelmed. Research in this area backs up my own experience, which says that two or three monitors provides just the right amount of  space  for efficient work.

Right now I'm using three widescreen LED monitors that are tilted 90° into portrait mode. You can see in the photos that this provides a nice layout for writing. (Click any photo to enlarge it)

You can guess that I'm glad I went in this direction. Or I wouldn't have continued to expand and improve my set up. And if I didn't like it, this whole article would have a much different tone!

In fact I strongly recommend that you get at least two monitors!

Having multiple monitors really does increase your efficiency and reduce the frustration that you might feel when you're working in several windows at the same time but can't see all of them. The time saved in being able to simply drag-and-drop or copy and paste without opening and closing windows is itself worth adding a monitor.

Once you have tried a multiple monitor setup, you'll never go back!

When getting a monitor, you may want to consider an LED backlit monitor because this type of monitor is VERY energy/cost efficient and is far less bulky than other types of monitors.  Also, be sure that you get a monitor that can swivel if you want to use them in portrait orientation.  Another option is to use a special stand to support multiple monitors.

For additional commentary on this topic, see my article Why you need more than one monitor in The Electronic Professor.

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