Using copy and paste to prevent errors

03Jan08

In my experience, people are pretty careless by nature. Unless the stakes are really high, we’re not very good at double-checking things or spotting mistakes. Given this harsh reality, I’m amazed at how many people fail to take advantage of possibly the best error-prevention tool around: the copy and paste feature.

Case in point: I was helping someone configure a replacement computer for one of their customers, and we sent over a copy of all the network settings. These were double-checked in advance to verify their accuracy. But when the person on the other end got a hold of them, they swapped the IP address and the gateway address. Since this info was entered wrong, the computer didn’t work properly when it arrived at the site, and it took over an hour to correct the issue later.

Preventing this would have been really easy: First, locate the reference information (in this case, it’s part of an email). Then, copy and paste it into a temporary location, like a text document. This makes it easy to rearrange the info if need be. Next, go to the place you’ll be entering it (in this case, a web-based management site). Copy and paste the info from your temporary location into each matching field. And finally, just to make sure you pasted things in the right place, copy and paste the saved settings back into the temporary document you created. Make sure they match up line-by-line.

The total time you’ll need to do it this way, including the comparison at the end, is probably less than it would take to enter the info by hand. Of course, the chances of errors during data entry are vastly reduced by using copy and paste, and you gain an additional verification step to catch any remaining errors. So while this might seem like incredibly obvious advice, I’ll repeat it again: if you want to make fewer mistakes, use copy and paste whenever you can. And if possible, encourage the users of your products to do the same: they’ll spend less time cleaning up messes, and more time being productive.



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