The creation of text documents. Except for labels and envelopes, it has replaced the electric typewriter in most offices, because of the ease in which documents can be edited, searched and reprinted.
Advanced word processors function as elementary desktop publishing systems. Although there are still machines dedicated only to word processing, most word processing is performed on general-purpose computers using word processing software such as Microsoft Word and WordPerfect.
Functions of a Full-featured Word Processor
Text can be changed by deleting it, typing over it or by inserting additional text within it.
Word Wrap and Centering
Words that extend beyond the right margin are wrapped around to the next line. Text can be centered between left and right margins.
Search and Replace, Move and Copy
Any occurrence of text can be replaced with another block of text. You can mark a block of text and move it elsewhere in the document or copy it throughout the document.
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. Headers, footers and page numbering can be set and reset anywhere within the document. Page numbering in optional Roman numerals or alphabetic letters is common.
After designing a document, its format can be used again. Layout codes (margins, tabs, fonts, etc.) can be stored in a template file (style sheet) and applied to a new document.
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.
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.
Preview, Print and Group Print
A document can be previewed before it is printed to show any layout change that may not normally show on screen (page breaks, headers, footers, etc.). Documents can be printed individually or as a group with page numbers consecutively numbered from the first to the last document.
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.
Spelling Checker and Thesaurus
Spelling can be checked for an individual word, marked block of text or an entire document. When words are in doubt, possible corrections are suggested. Advanced systems can correct the misspellings automatically. A thesaurus displays synonyms for the word at the current cursor location.
Documents can be copied, renamed and deleted, and directories, or folders, can be created and deleted from within the program.
Allows two or more documents to be worked on at the same time. Text can be moved or copied from one document to the other.
Columns can be created in all word processors by tabbing to a tab stop. However, true column capability wraps words to the next line within each column. Columns are required for writing resumes with employer information on the left and work history on the right. Script writing also requires column capability. Magazine-style columns flow words from the bottom of one column to the top of the next.
Tables of Contents and Indexes
Tables of contents and indexes can be generated from entries typed throughout the document.
Graphics can be merged into the text and either displayed on screen with the text or in a preview mode before printing. A graphic object can be resized (scaled), rotated and anchored so that it remains with a particular segment of text. Rules and borders can also be created within the text.
Graphics Vs. Text Based
Graphics-based programs (Windows, Macintosh, etc.) show a close facsimile on screen of the typefaces that will be printed. Earlier text-based DOS programs always show the same type size on screen.
Text-based word processors are fine for typing letters and documents with a simple format. They are also very responsive and good for creative writing. Some authors still use ancient DOS word processors because they are more flexible than many GUI-based products, and they run fine under Windows. Graphics-based systems are necessary for preparing newsletters and brochures that contain a variety of font styles and sizes.
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 on and off. In WordPerfect, [BOLD]
turns it on, and [bold]
turns it off.
Conversion programs are used to translate documents from one format to another. If a converter does not exist for the required formats, multiple search & replace commands can be performed on the original document. 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 run from the ridiculous to the sublime. Some of the most awkward programs have sold well. As a novice, it is difficult to tell a good one from a bad one. It takes time to explore the nuances. Also, what is acceptable for 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. Key placement is also important.