Fran Ellis is in complete agreement with Andy Rooney's preference for old manual typewriters.

"I'm retired now," Fran writes, "but how well I remember! An old black Royal was the ultimate status symbol. If there was one in the office, the boss had it."

Among newsmen, the old Underwood was the best-loved machine, although some of us preferred other makes. If memory serves, Pulitzer Prize winner Edward T. Folliard worked best on an old L. C. Smith. We kept a couple of spares on hand to be sure we'd have repair parts for him.

"Do you still use a manual typewriter," Fran inquires, "or in this electronic age do you tape it and have somebody else type it?"

The very thought of having somebody else transcribe my dictation makes me nervous. It's the typing -- what we call "keyboarding" -- that's the key to error control.

A production process that involves two keyboarding contains twice the risk of error inherent in one keyboarding. If the process also includes transcribing sounds into writing, the risk of error increases. There is always the danger that a transcriber will not hear precisely what was dictated -- especially when a recording device is used.

Our newsroom switched to electric typewriters a long time ago. I was certain I would never learn to use one, but after the first day felt as comfortable with it as I had ever felt with a manual typewriter. When some of us were switched to VDTs (video display terminals), I was certain that I would never learn to use one. After the first day, I was singing the VDT's praises.

Except for the infrequent occasions on which electrical glitches drive the central computer insane, the VDT is the best mechanical friend a writer has. It is far more versatile than a typewriter, and much easier to use. If you've never worked with a VDT, you can't really appreciate its value.

Not the least of the VDT's advantages is the fact that it involves only one keyboarding process. In the old days, reporters wrote out their copy on paper and sent it to editors who made changes -- sometimes extensive and partially illegible changes. Ultimately, the cryptic end product was sent to the composing room for deciphering and rekeyboarding on Linotype machines.

Copy that contained errors might be corrected by the composing room, but copy that was correct might be incorrectly keyboarded there. Given two chances for error, we made twice as many.

For those now assigned to VDT's, as I have long been, the second keyboarding in the composing room is eliminated. The reporter writes on a VDT terminal. Copy appears on a video screen, not on paper.Editors can review and correct a story by commanding the computer to "fe" VDT shorthand for "fetch") it to the screens of their own VDTs. When an edited version that is acceptable to all concerned is achieved, an editor can cause it to be set into type by writing "se" (VDT shorthand for "set") and then striking a command key. This causes the final draft of the story to be automatically set into type that is ready in about 60 seconds.

The machine isn't smart, it's stupid. It does only what you tell it to do.

For example, the computer has a limited knowledge of syllabification. When it can't find room for a complete word before a line ends, it will usually insert a hyphen in the right place and finish the word on the next line. Occasionally, however, the computer divides a word in the wrong place.

The operator must then overrule the computer and tell it how to divide the word properly. This can be done by touching only two buttons: a mode key and an instruction key. It's all so simple that the only excuse for mistakes is human frailty.

That's the big drawback to using VDTs. The operator must be smarter than the machine. And when the operator doesn't give the machine the right instructions, he can't blame keyboarding mistakes on a printer who did no keyboarding. Being forced to take the blame for our own errors does untold damage to the psyches of us ssensitive creative artists. THE CHRISTMAS SPIRITS

Bill Herman was buying some gift packages of liquor at a state store on Leesburg Pike. He was a little bit annoyed when the checkout clerk began opening the gift boxes to peer inside.

"Sorry," the clerk said. "Gotta do it. Too many people have been ripping us off by switching expensive stuff into gift boxes for cheaper brands."

I knew people were pulling the old switcheroo in supermarkets but I didn't realize they were doing it with liquor, too. Good heavens! Does this mean liquor has become as expensive as food? President Carter is going to have to do something about the cost of high living.