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  • John Bell

Tech Sense March 2023: Using our Tools: The Word Processor pt. 2

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Word Processing Part 2

This month we continue our “Using our Tools” discussion of the Word Processor. We are focused on the three products, Microsoft Word, a part of Microsoft Office, Google Docs, and LibreOffice Writer, a part of the Free and Open Source (FOSS) LibreOffice Suite. There are many other Word Processors and Office Suites out there, but these three are the most popular. We will focus on only these products.

More than a Text Editor

Before the Word Processor we had text editors. A text editor does just what is sounds like it should do, it allows you to edit text. An example is Notepad that comes with Windows. Before modern word processor many writers would use a text editor to capture their writing and a separate process would be used after the content was written to prepare the content for publication, selecting fonts, line spacing, paragraph indentation, and so forth and setting it all up for printing. UNIX and Linux systems still offer these tools for example LaTex has been used for many years to electronically typeset technical documents in the UNIX community. These tools are typically built into the modern word processor which provides control of the appearance of the document, including fonts, letter and line spacing, page formatting, and many other aspects of the document appearance.

Styles and Templates

Styles, another common feature allows multiple attributes to be combined, like text sizes, font styles, bold, italics, underlining, paragraph numbering, indentations, and so on, into a style that can be easily selected, often from a menu at the top of the application. For example, as I type this article, the paragraph style I am using is called “body text”. It uses the Calibri font, set to 11 points, and the paragraph is block form (not indented) and left aligned with 6 points of space added at the bottom of the paragraph for separation with the next paragraph.

Notice here that spacing between paragraphs is automatically handled. There is no need to add a carriage return between paragraphs like you might do on a typewriter. This is a common error I see from people that are not used to word processing. Remember that this is not a typewriter.

Some people insist that double spacing shouldn’t be used after a period in a sentence when word processing. Their rational is that book publishers tend to single space here. I argue for double spacing because it gives the eyes a visible stop and makes reading faster as result. This is important for most business documents and most of us are not writing for the book market.

It is also common to allow these styles to be combined into style sheets or templates which control the default appearance of an entire document. Templates make it possible for multiple documents to have a consistent appearance in an organization.

Common templates based on best practices are often available within the word processor. Standard templates for business letters, reports, resumes, and other common documents are provided or can also be downloaded from the web.

Lists, Headers, Numbers, and Bullets

Often documents need to handle lists. For example the three of a strong password are;

· Make a password 13 characters or longer

· Use a mix of upper and lower case characters, numbers and symbols.

· Make it different for each application or website you are using.

This is a numbered list. The work processor will handle the numbers for you even if you go back and insert or delete a line later. It also handles multi-layer lists handling both the indents and the numbering scheme (letters numbers, italics, etc…). A bullet list will place a large dot or other symbol in front of each line and with multilevel list can vary the bullet at each level.

Headers are the various levels of titles used within a document. You can think of these headers as a special list. Each level can have its own style to make each one distinguishable from the rest. They can also be automatically outline numbered to reflect the outline of the document.

Outlining and Tables of Content

Whenever I start working on a larger document I normally begin by creating an outline. Word processors allow you to use the headlines to build an outline and support automatic outline numbering of the headers. Most also support an outline view of the document which allows you to reorder the outline moving any content at the same time. So chapter 2 can be swapped with chapter 3 with almost no effort. Word provides a nice feature, if you select the view menu and pick navigation pane it will show the outline of a document as a navigation pane for the document on the left side of the screen. I use this feature all of the time and it is a must for larger documents.

The outline represented by the headers can also be used to create a table of contents for the document. Some document also benefit from tables showing the locations of the figures and other tables with a document. If you have captioned these tables and figures the word processor can generate tables of figures and tables automatically. It is important to remember that these table will often need to be updated and regenerated after edits because the page numbers may change.

Final Words

Again, I have run out of space this month. There will be a part 3 to the Word Processing series, and then a short break because May is World change your Password Day/Month. Then I plan to do a series on Spreadsheets. Until then have a great end of your Winter.

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