Word Processing: Basics

These instructions are written to be generic; the concepts are common to most word processors. The goal is to teach skills that can be carried away rather than specifics that may vary from one program, version, or platform to another.

Not a typewriter: The word processor is somewhat different from a typewriter even though they have a lot in common. If you are comfortable with the typewriter, you will need to "unlearn" some old habits when using a word processor. On the typewriter, you hit a return at the end of every line. On the computer, the text wraps automatically from one line to the next so you only need to hit a return at the end of the paragraph. On the typewriter, all alphabet letters take up the same amount of space while, on the computer, letters are proportional so "i"s and "l"s are skinnier and take up less space than "w"s and "m"s. When typing, you were probably taught to put one space between words and two spaces between sentences. On the computer, you only need to put one space between sentences.

Clicking and Double-clicking: Clicking means pushing down on the mouse button once and quickly releasing it. Double-clicking means clicking the mouse button two times fast. Usually, you single-click the controls inside a program but you double-click the icons when outside a program. Why? Somebody decided it should work this way!

Dragging: Dragging means holding the mouse button down while moving the mouse. You can click on an object and drag the mouse to move the object to a new location.

Repositioning the mouse: If you are moving the mouse and you run out of room, you can lift the mouse off the mouse-pad and reposition it. Note that the pointer stops moving as soon as you lift the mouse off the pad, and the pointer begins moving again when you set the mouse down and move it.

Selecting Text: To move or delete some text, you must first select it. Drag the pointer over the text and it will become highlighted. Future commands will act upon the highlighted text.

Cut: After selecting some text, choosing "Cut" from the Edit menu causes it to be sent to the clipboard. The selected text disappears.

Copy: After selecting some text, choosing "Copy" from the Edit menu causes an identical copy of the selected text to be sent to the clipboard. The selected text remains where it was.

The Clipboard: The clipboard is a temporary holding place for information that is cut or copied. It can hold only one thing, and as soon as something new is cut or copied, the old contents of the clipboard are thrown out and the new item is stored there.

Paste: The contents of the clipboard can be pasted by first clicking the location where the text should appear, and then choosing "Paste" from the Edit menu.

Undo and Redo: If you make a mistake, you can undo the last thing you did by choosing Edit/Undo. If you change your mind after Undoing, choose Edit/Redo.

Save and Save As... What's the difference? Under the File menu, "Save As..." is used to give the file a name for the first time, or to save it to a new location. Save is used to write over the previous version of a file you have been working on.

Print: When you are ready to print your work, choose File/Print or the Print icon.

Help: Don't forget about the online help. It can often help you figure out how to do something complicated. The trick is to pick the right keywords in your search. There is often an index as well as a search, and in some programs, pointing at a tool will cause a popup menu to appear after a few seconds.


Word Processing: Advanced

Keyboard Shortcuts: Most menu commands have keyboard shortcuts. As you become familiar with a program, you will find that you can work much faster if you learn them. You can find out what they are by looking on the right side of the pull-down menus, next to the commands. For example, the shortcut for save is Control-S on a PC and Apple-S on a Mac.

Drag and Drop: As an alternative to Cut and Paste, some word processors allow "Drag and Drop". In this case, you highlight the text and then drag it and let go when the pointer reaches the location where you want the text to go. It's easy to drag and drop by accident so use this feature with care, and remember the Undo function if you mess up.

Text Appearance

Type face: A variety of typefaces or Fonts are available. In some programs, the Font menu is WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get!), so you can see what your text will look like in advance rather than having to pick one by trial and error. The following text appearance topics are WYSIWYG.

Type size: Each font comes in a variety of sizes. Larger "point" sizes represent larger text. Note that sizes are not the same across fonts, so "Helvetica" 12 point may not be the same size as "Times New Roman" 12 point, but you can be sure that "New York" 12 point is larger than "New York" 9 point.

Text style: Each text font and size can also have a "style" such as Plain, Bold, Italic, Underlined, Superscript & Subscript Teletype, Strikethrough and others.

Color: Text can come in many colors as well, and this is often useful if someone is editing your document so you can easily see where the changes were made.

Paragraph Formatting

Alignment: Text can be set to left , center , right , or justified (spaced so that the text fills the page). In most programs, this is accomplished by highlighting the text and then clicking the desired alignment button, although it can also usually be done from the Format menu.

Text spacing: As with alignment, text can be set to single-spaced, double-spaced, etc. by clicking the Increase and Decrease Spacing buttons or from the menu.

Margins: You can set the amount of empty space at the top, bottom, left and right sides of the page. Typically, the default is a one inch margin all around.

Rulers: In a word processor, you can use the ruler to set the indent, margin and tab markers wherever you want them, and this can allow complex formatting options. Never use the space bar and return key to align text.

Show Invisibles: There are invisible formatting control characters embedded in the text such as hard returns, space holders, underline, bold, and font controls. You can view these characters to help find formatting problems by changing a setting in the program preferences.

Spell Check: A spell checker is a useful tool, but it must be used with care. Type a few lines of text into the program. If you never make a mistake, add a few deliberate errurs sow wee can sea how teh spellchecquer worcks. There are a few important things to remember when using a spell checker: 1) it won't catch correctly spelled words that are used improperly (their instead of there, for example), 2) it won't recognize unusual person or place names or technical words (though you can add these words to your custom dictionary), 3) it won't notice if words are missing or if the grammar is incorrect. Bottom line: Always proof read your work after you spell check it.

Grammar Check: A modern grammar checker is pretty good at finding legitimate problems and is definitely helpful on occasion, but I personally find that it interrupts the flow of my writing if it is set to check my grammar automatically. It also tends to be rather slow. I prefer to run it after I am done (if at all), and I don't always take its advice.

Tables: Adding tables is a nice way to produce organized, professional looking documents. Unfortunately, the formatting tools are often confusing and vary between programs. You will have to explore this on your own.

Graphics: Most word processors allow you to insert images into the text. In some cases, you may wish the graphic to underlay the text while in others, the text should wrap around the image. Although word processors have basic graphics tools, it is often better to manipulate your images in a separate graphics program and then import them.

Exporting documents: If you need to give your document to someone with an older version of the same program, you will usually have the choice of saving the document in an older version's format. If the receiver has a different program, this technique still usually works because most programs have import filters that will convert documents they recognize. If the receiver still can't open your document, save it as an RTF (rich text format) or, as a last resort, as a plain text (ASCII) document. They may lose some or all of the formatting and images, but at least they will get the text itself.