The creation of text documents via computer. Except for labels and envelopes, word processing software has long since replaced the electric typewriter. Advanced word processors can function as elementary desktop publishing systems.
Text Editing, Word Wrap and Centering
Text can be deleted, typed over or inserted, and words at the right margin wrap to the next line. Text can be centered between left and right margins.
Copy, Move, Search and Replace
Text can be copied or moved within the document, and any occurrence of text can be replaced with another block of text.
Margins, tabs, line spacing, indents, font changes, underline, bold and italic can be set and reset anywhere within the document.
Headers, Footers and Page Numbering
Headers and footers are common text printed on the top and bottom of every page. Page numbering in Roman numerals may be available.
A document layout (margins, tabs, fonts, etc.) can be stored in a template file (style sheet) and applied to a new document.
A document can be reviewed on screen to show exactly how it will print with page breaks, headers, footers, etc.
Spelling can be checked on the fly, and common typos may be corrected automatically.
Documents can be duplicated, renamed and deleted, and folders can be created and deleted from within the program.
All word processors support columns with tab stops. However, true column capability for documents, such as resumes and theater scripts, wraps words within each column; for example, employer information on the left and work history on the right. Magazine-style columns are another structure that flows the words from the bottom of one column to the top of the next.
Images merged into the document can be resized and anchored so they remain with that segment of text. Rules and borders can also be created on the page.
Footnotes and Endnotes
Footnote entries can be made at any place in the document, and the footnotes printed at the end of a page or document.
Tables of Contents and Indexes
Tables of contents and indexes can be generated from entries typed throughout the document.
Math and Sorting
Columns of numbers can be summed and simple arithmetic expressions can be computed. Lines of text can be reordered into ascending (A-Z) or descending (Z-A) sequence.
Creates customized letters from a form letter and a list of names and addresses. The list can be created as a document or can be imported from popular database formats.
A thesaurus displays synonyms for the word at the current cursor location.
Documents can be printed individually or as a group with page numbers consecutively numbered from the first to the last document.
Graphics Vs. Text Based
All software today is graphics based and shows an extremely close facsimile on screen of the document that will be printed. Graphics-based (GUI-based) software is essential for documents that contain a variety of font styles and sizes.
Earlier text-based DOS programs displayed the same type font and size all the time, and they were fine for typing letters and documents with a simple format. Even today, some authors still use DOS word processors running under Windows, because they are more responsive than GUI-based products and more than adequate for creative writing. See XyWrite
Every major word processing program has generated its own proprietary codes for layout settings. For example, in an old WordStar document, the ^PB
code turned bold both on and off. In WordPerfect, [BOLD]
turns it on, and [bold]
turns it off.
Conversion programs translate documents from one format to another. If one does not exist for the required formats, multiple search & replace commands can be performed on the original. However, if the same code turns a mode on as well as off, as in the WordStar example above, the codes have to be changed manually one at a time.
The User Interface
Word processing programs have run from the ridiculous to the sublime, and some of the most awkward programs sold well. It may be difficult to tell a good one from a bad one in the beginning, because it takes time to explore a program's nuances. Also, what is acceptable to the slow typist can be horrendous for the fast typist.
Repetitive functions such as centering and changing display attributes (bold, italic, etc.) should be a snap. Changing margins, tabs, indents and fonts should also be easy.
The most important component in word processing has nothing to do with software. The keyboard is the primary interface between the user and the machine, and the feel of the keys is critical.