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Tech Sense by John Bell March 2023: Using our Tools: The Word Processor pt. 3

Part 1 of this series is available here.

Part 2 of this series is available here.

Word Processing Part 3

This month we conclude 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.

Page Layout

Modern word processors give the document creator control over the arrangement of the overall printed page, called the page layout. The layout includes the margin sizes for the top, bottom, left and right margins and the page orientation, either portrait (taller on the sides) or landscape (wider across the top and bottom). Text is typically contained within these margins. However, often space is added to the top and bottom of the page for a header and a footer. The number of text columns used within the page is also controlled.

Headers and Footers

A header is a section reserved at the top of a page and may hold a title, author name, page number, section number, date, copyright, or other information the publisher wants to make certain to repeat at the top of each page. A footer is similar to a header except it appears at the bottom of each page. Often additional space is added to the top and bottom margins to account for the header and footer.

About Saving Documents

I learned a long time ago about saving documents, do it frequently. Most word processors recognize control-s as a command to save your work. Modern word processors will also save a document automatically every 5 or 10 minutes in case there is a power outage or other disaster. When restarting the word processor, the program will prompt you to recover the saved document so you can continue your work within 5 – 10 minutes of where you left off. I normally change the setting to 5 minutes to minimize any loss of data.

Google Docs actually does not have a “save” command: it continuously saves the document as you write them and stores the document in the cloud.

Reviewing and Editing

Modern word processors provide tools for editing and reviewing documents. The most common tool here is the ability to add comments attached to specific locations within the document. A reviewer with access to the document can add comments and the author can also respond with their own comments. The comments do not show up in the document itself, so they do not appear printing the document unless printing comments is enabled.

Word processors can also track changes to the document and show or hide the markup so changes can easily see or hidden. The changes can then be reviewed and accepted or rejected. All of this markup can be easily hidden and removed in the final version of the document. These tools make it easier to work with editors or in a group that must agree on the final version.

Many writers find the need to count how many words are in a document. For example, magazines and newspapers have guidelines for how many words should appear in an article or letter to the editor. The word processor usually includes a word count feature that will count the words for you.

Microsoft Word has a feature that measures a series of statics about the document, including how easy or difficult a document is to read. These features may need enabling in preferences, but it can help your writing skills a lot and allow you to better target a document to an audience. Unfortunately, these features are currently unique to Microsoft Word but apparently not enabled by default.

Mail Merge

Mail merge allows one to merge information from a list and merge that information with a document. For example, to create customized form letters. First, create a list of names and addresses with one name and address per line. You can do this in a spreadsheet or use the outlook address book for example. Next, create a document placing markers in the document. The markers use the same column names as appears in the list. Executing, the merge replaces the markers with the data in the list one line per document copy. I have used this feature to create invitations and print enveloped in the past. Google Docs requires a free add-on to perform mail merge.

And in the end…

This concludes our look at the word processor. Most of the features discussed are supported in one way or another in each of our three word processors. LibreOffice is both free and Open-source and even runs on the lowly Raspberry Pi. Google Docs runs on your browser but can be operated when offline using the Chrome Browser. Microsoft Word is a part of Microsoft Office and Office 365 and has web-based and installation-based versions for Windows and Apple. The Google and Microsoft apps also have support for Apple and Android phones and tablets.

Next month we will cover passwords and personal security. Until then have a great month.

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