September 12, 2004
An analysis of the typing skills of the forgerBy Lona Manning
Blogosphere analysis of the Killian documents to date has focused on the typography of the documents and whether they adhere to military style. This article examines what formatting commands the typist used to create the document and what this says about his skills.
I used to teach word processing to adults. Word processing, I would explain to my students, involved two basic tasks: accurately entering the data and formatting the data to make it look good.
Word processing, as opposed to using a typewriter, means that those who enter data have convenient tools for catching errors, such as spell and grammar check, 'autocorrect,' which automatically fixes common spelling errors, and the ability to revise and re—write. I'd reassure my computer—phobic students that these advantages alone would make them forget about using typewriters and switch to computers. We'll return to this point later.
The other advantage to word processing is that with the computer, one has an infinite array of formatting choices — font type, font size, indenting, spacing, and so forth. All you have to do is learn the basic commands, I told them, and soon your documents will look exactly like you want them to.
As my students practiced formatting techniques like centering and tabbing, I quickly learned what mistakes inexperienced word processors made. They would invariably try to indent and center using the space bar. For example, if they were typing a resume, they would attempt to center their name and address at the top of the page by tapping the space bar to get to the center of the page. They would also use the space bar to indent, instead of tabbing across. The result is always uneven and ragged. The 'tab' key even existed on typewriters, and it was there for a reason —— tabs are pre—set every half inch so indents can be precise. That is, press the tab button once and it advances half an inch; twice, an inch, and so on. (They can even be custom set, but that's another lesson).
The late Lt. Col. Killian's family says that he was not a good typist. Probably a 'hunt and peck' guy as opposed to a touch typist. From my experience, I'd say it's very unusual for 'hunt and peck' typists to know how to use the tab key.
Therefore, a man with Killian's skill level, desiring to indent the date at the top of his letter and the signature and title lines at the bottom, would use the space bar. But on two of memos, (I'm using the '04 May 1972' memo in this article), the indented signature and title lines at the bottom of the letter are neatly lined up with the date near the top of the letter. This would be hard to achieve without using tabs. And his date and his signature line up with the 4' tab stop. (Assuming a one inch left margin).
Another clue that the Killian forger could type well enough to use the tab key, is the subject line, reproduced here:
SUBJECT: Annual Physical Examination (Flight)
Notice the white space between the word 'SUBJECT:' and 'Annual Physical Examination'. Normally, you would type two spaces after the full colon. There's more than two spaces there. It's a tab, and the words 'Annual Physical Examination' line up with the one inch tab.
I conclude that whoever typed the Killian documents knew how to use the tab key.
The trickiest bit of formatting for my students was the mysteries of the hanging indent.
This paragraph starts with an indent and the rest of the sentence is flush left, or left justified. This is the common appearance of most paragraphs in letters.
A hanging indent is the opposite — the first line is flush left, or justified left, and the remainder of the paragraph is indented. For some reason, the MEMORANDUM FOR sentence has a hanging indent. Why the typist started a new line after '
Let's move on to the numbered paragraphs, the body of the letter. Numbered paragraphs, if correctly and attractively formatted, are a variation of indented paragraphs. The Killian document numbered paragraphs look like this:
1. You are ordered to report to commander, 111 F.I.S., Ellington AFB, not later than (NLT) 14,May,1972, to conduct annual physical examination (flight)IAW AGM 35—13.
But any time you try to type numbered paragraphs in Microsoft Word, the machine automatically transforms them into indented and automatically numbered paragraphs.
1. You are ordered to report to commander, 111 F.I.S., Ellington AFB, not later than (NLT) 14 May, 1972, to conduct annual physical examination (flight)IAW AGM 35—13.
Automatically, that is, unless the typist clicks on the 'Tools' menu, goes to 'Auto Correct Options' and turns the automatic numbering feature off. I used to turn off the automatic numbering on all the computers in my classroom, because the automatic feature was confusing for my students. The program would sometimes create an automatic numbered list when my students were typing sentences or lines that started with a number, for example, an address that started with an apartment number.
If the word processing program leaps in and changes what you are typing, you end up with a numbered list when you didn't want one.
I conclude the Killian documents were prepared on a computer that had the automatic bulleting featured turned off.
So, is the lack of automatic numbering, evidence that the documents were prepared on a typewriter, after all? I don't think so. Apart from the overwhelming evidence gathered by, among others, Charles Johnson at the Little Green Footballs site, and Shape of Days that the documents were made with a computer, consider the typing abilities on display in the Killian forgeries.
Even though we are looking at documents which have been photocopied and scanned, there is no sign that the author of the documents made a single typing mistake that he went back and corrected with correction fluid, strike—overs or ink. There are no wavery bloggy bits where the typist typed through a half—dried puddle of correction fluid. (You have to be a certain age to remember these things.) Back in the days of typewriters, if a person was typing something for their own file, as opposed to an important letter, they might deal with a typo like this
You are ordered to
That is, they would use the backspace key and go over the mistake with an 'X' or a dash, and carry on. Or they would make a correction after they pulled the paper out of the typewriter.
But there are no boo—boos of that kind. Back in the days when I used a typewriter, I probably could not have produced four documents with no typos, and I was a legal secretary. I relied on correction fluid. Correcting ribbons were not available to me in the early '70's, and I suspect the Texas Air National Guard didn't have them either.
Remember that Killian is supposed to be a man who can barely type. It's unlikely to the point of absurdity that a 'hunt and peck' typist could produce four letters with virtually no typos in the form of transposed letters, wrong letters, etc.
Whoever typed these was an above—average typist or was using word processing equipment with spellcheck.
There are errors, but they are not errors which obscure the readability of the memos. In the first numbered paragraph, a few spaces are missing between words. It reads 'May,1972,to' instead of 'May, 1972 to'.
But what about the 'May,1972,to' mistake? Wouldn't spellcheck have caught that or automatically fixed it? As it turns out, if you type this string into Word, it lights up with a wavy green line, not a wavy red line. As any one who uses Word knows, a red wavy line under a word mean that Word is questioning your spelling. But if you get a wavy green line, it means Word is questioning your grammar. This fragment is treated by Word as a grammar problem. Many people use spellcheck but some people prefer to turn off the automatic grammar—checking feature. Otherwise, the computer is constantly harassing them for writing in the passive voice, or writing run—on sentences, sentence fragments, and so forth.
I conclude that these documents were prepared on a computer which may have had spellcheck turned on, but grammar check turned off.
To summarize, I would have graded this typist with a 'C.' The document has been spell—checked, but the formatting shows that this person hasn't fully mastered hanging indents or numbered lists.
I believe these documents were typed by someone with moderate word processing skills, way above the 'hunt and peck' range, but below a professional secretary's.
Given his limited abilities, I doubt that the forger knew how to turn off automatic superscripting. I speculate that they used a computer that had been used by a more experienced typist, someone who knew how to adjust the settings and turn off the features they didn't want. Perhaps this computer was used by more than one person. Or it could be a 'hand me down' computer, passed from one family member to another, as the previous owner upgraded to a newer version. Perhaps as well, the space bar on his keyboard has a tendency to stick.
The forger didn't know how to change the font from Times New Roman to Courier, which would have made his document look more like a type—written document. He didn't make any deliberate typos.
It has been remarked, and I agree, that the forger might be too young to realize why his documents are immediately recognizable as computer—made, and not the product of a typewriter. Possibly he's never used a typewriter. He could no more imitate a type—written document than I could sit down with a quill pen and write in copperplate. He may have been working in concert with someone who has some military knowledge.
His errors are not 'fake errors,' carefully crafted to hide his abilities. He is an average typist, but a terrible forger.
Lona Manning is a freelance writer and former word processing instructor. She was not wearing pajamas when writing this article, but was wearing a really old sweatshirt with stains and holes in it.