Introduction to Word Processing
A word processor is software or a device that allows users to create, edit, and print documents. It enables you to write text, store it electronically, display it on a screen, modify it by entering commands and characters from the keyboard, and print it.
Of all computer applications, word processing is the most common. Today, most word processors are delivered either as a service or as software that users can install on a PC or other device.
Word Processor Checklist
Jump to a topic in this article:
- History of Word Processing
- Standard Features of Word Processors
- Full-featured Word Processors
- Word Processors vs. Text Editors vs. Desktop Publishing Systems
History of Word Processing
The earliest word processors were standalone machines similar to electric typewriters that debuted in the 1960s. The great advantage of these early machines over using a typewriter was that you could make changes without retyping the entire document. Over time, the devices acquired more advanced features, such as the ability to save documents on a disk, elaborate formatting options, and spell-checking.
While there are still some standalone word processors in use today, word processing began to move to personal computers in the 1980s. In the early days of the PC, a word processor called WordPerfect became one of the most widely used applications of any kind. Over time, however, What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) word processors that showed users exactly what would print on their final documents became more popular. one of those WYSISWG word processors, Microsoft Word, became dominant in the 1990s.
With the advent of cloud computing in the 2000s, word processing changed again. The cloud allowed users to do their word processing via a browser-based application. While these cloud-based word processors lacked the advanced functionality of software installed on a device, they allowed users to store their documents in a remote data center and access them from any Internet-connected PC or mobile device. They also made it easier for geographically separated teams of people to work together on the same document. Many users found that cloud-based word processors offered enough features to meet their needs, as well as greater convenience, mobility, and collaboration support.
Standard Features of Word Processors
Word processors vary considerably, but all word processors, whether cloud-based or installed on a system, support the following basic features:
insert text: Allows you to insert text anywhere in the document.
delete text: Allows you to erase characters, words, lines, or pages.
cut and paste: Allows you to remove (cut) a section of text from one place in a document and insert (paste) it somewhere else.
copy: Allows you to duplicate a section of text.
page size and margins: Allows you to define various page sizes and margins, and the word processor will automatically readjust the text so that it fits.
search and replace: Allows you to direct the word processor to search for a particular word or phrase. You can also direct the word processor to replace one group of characters with another everywhere that the first group appears.
word wrap: Automatically moves to the next line when you have filled one line with text, and it will readjust text if you change the margins.
print: Allows you to send a document to a printer to get hard copy.
file management: Provides file management capabilities that allow you to create, delete, move, and search for files.
font specifications: Allows you to change fonts within a document. For example, you can specify bold, italics, and underlining. Most word processors also let you change the font size and even the typeface.
windows: Allows you to edit two or more documents at the same time. Each document appears in a separate window. This is particularly valuable when working on a large project that consists of several different files.
spell checking: Identifies words that don’t appear in a standard dictionary.
Full-Featured Word Processors
Most installable modern word processor software supports additional features that enable you to manipulate and format documents in more sophisticated ways. Full-featured word processors usually support the following advanced features, and cloud-based word processors may have some of these features as well:
grammar checking: Identifies sentences, paragraphs, and punctuation that doesn’t appear to meet commonly recognized rules of grammar.
footnotes and cross-references: Automates the numbering and placement of footnotes and enables you to easily cross-reference other sections of the document.
automated lists: Automatically creates bulleted or numbered lists, including multi-level outlines.
graphics: Allows you to embed illustrations, graphs, and possibly even videos into a document. Some word processors let you create the illustrations within the word processor; others let you insert an illustration produced by a different program.
headers, footers, and page numbering: Allows you to specify customized headers and footers that the word processor will put at the top and bottom of every page. The word processor automatically keeps track of page numbers so that the correct number appears on each page.
layout: Allows you to specify different margins within a single document and to specify various methods for indenting paragraphs.
macros: Enables users to define and run macros, a character or word that represents a series of keystrokes. The keystrokes can represent text or commands. The ability to define macros allows you to save yourself a lot of time by replacing common combinations of keystrokes.
merge: Allows you to merge text from one file into another file. This is particularly useful for generating many files that have the same format but different data. Generating mailing labels is the classic example of using merges.
tables of contents and indexes: Allows you to automatically create a table of contents and index based on special codes that you insert in the document.
thesaurus: Allows you to search for synonyms without leaving the word processor.
collaboration: Allows users to track changes to the document when more than one person is editing. Some cloud-based word processors also allow multiple users to edit the same document at the same time.
Internet features: Allows users to embed Web links into their documents and format their documents for the Web. Some also link to Web services that can help users create their documents.
translation and speech: As artificial intelligence capabilities become more commonplace, some word processors have gained the ability to read text aloud, to accept voice commands, and to translate text from one language to another.
Word Processors vs. Text Editors vs. Desktop Publishing Systems
Word processors are very similar to two other categories of software: text editors and publishing applications.
Applications that support only the basic features from the first list above (and maybe a few others) are sometimes called text editors. Office workers sometimes use text editors to create simple documents that don’t require a full-featured word processor. However, text editors are more commonly used by programmers who use special text editors with features designed for writing code.
Desktop publishing systems, on the other hand, are generally more advanced and complex than word processors. The line dividing word processors from desktop publishing systems is constantly shifting as word processors become more advanced. In general, though, desktop publishing applications support finer control over layout, especially for documents with a lot of graphics, and they offer more support for full-color printing options.
A VIDEO EXPLAINING INTRODUCTION TO WORD PROCESSING
Working with Word Processing Software
A word processor can view and edit formatted text. A formatted text document contains text which may be bold, italic, underlined, coloured, a different size, or a different font. All word processors can do all of these.
Microsoft Word can also do quite a lot most of which you will not need to know about, as a beginner.
How a word processor can be used
Run a word processor, such as Microsoft Word (but any other, such as Lotus Word Pro will also work). Depending which word processor you are using you may get something asking for your username, or asking whether you want to load an existing file or use a template or whatever. Click Cancel to all of these.
You should now see a screen which is almost all white or grey. If it is grey, click on File, then on New. You may get another window opening, if so click on OK.
You are now ready to begin. Type a few words in, and they will appear, almost certainly in black on white, and in small serifed writing. Up to the top left (probably) you will see some buttons, saying B, I, U, a number, and “Times New Roman”. Try clicking on one of these and changing it, and type a few more words in to see what happens.
One of the most fundamental and important things about word processors is that you can change what you have already written (unlike on a typewriter, or writing by hand!) Click the mouse somewhere where you have written some writing, and you will notice a vertical black line moves to where you clicked. Type some more words and you will see they appear in this new place. You can also use the arrow keys to move this line. This line is called the “cursor”.
Also try clicking and dragging over some text. You will notice it turns to white on either a blue or black background. This is called “selecting”. Try typing now. You will find that all of the selected text disappears and is replaced by what you have just typed. If you press Delete instead, it would just disappear. There is more you can do with selected text than just remove it, however.
There have been 3 types of word processors: mechanical, electronic and software
Mechanical word processing
The first word processing device (a “Machine for Transcribing Letters” that appears to have been similar to a typewriter) was patented by Henry Mill for a machine that was capable of “writing so clearly and accurately you could not distinguish it from a printing press”.
More than a century later, another patent appeared in the name of William Austin Burt for the typographer. In the late 19th century, Christopher Latham Sholes created the first recognizable typewriter that although it was a large size, which was described as a “literary piano”.
These mechanical systems could not “process text” beyond changing the position of type, re-fill empty spaces or jump lines. It was not until decades later that the introduction of electricity and then electronics into typewriters began to help the writer with the mechanical part. The term “word processing” itself was created in the 1950s by Ulrich Steinhilper, a German IBM typewriter sales executive. However, it did not make its appearance in 1960s office management or computing literatures, though many of the ideas, products, and technologies to which it would later be applied were already well known. But by 1971 the term was recognized by the New York Times as a business “buzz word”. Word processing paralleled the more general “data processing”, or the application of computers to business administration.
Thus by 1972 discussion of word processing was common in publications devoted to business office management and technology, and by the mid-1970s the term would have been familiar to any office manager who consulted business periodicals.
Electronic word processing
By the late 1960s, IBM had developed the IBM MT/ST (Magnetic Tape/Selectric Typewriter). This was a model of the IBM Selectric typewriter from the earlier part of this decade, but built into its own desk, and integrated with magnetic tape recording and playback facilities, with controls and a bank of electrical relays. The MT/ST automated word wrap, but it had no screen. This device allowed rewriting text that had been written on another tape and you could collaborate (send the tape to another person for them to edit or make a copy). It was a revolution for the word processing industry. In 1969 the tapes were replaced by magnetic cards. These memory cards were introduced in the side of an extra device that accompanied the MT/ST, able to read and record the work.
In the early 1970s, word processing then became computer-based (albeit with specialty based computing) with the development of several innovations. Just before the arrival of the Personal Computer (PC), IBM developed the “floppy disk”. Also in the early 1970s word-processing systems with a CRT screen display editing were designed.
At this time these stand-alone word processing systems were designed, built and marketed by several pioneering companies. Linolex Systems was founded in 1970 by James Lincoln and Robert Oleksiak. Linolex based its technology on microprocessors, floppy drives and software. It was a computer-based system for application in the word processing businesses and it sold systems through its own sales force. With a base of installed systems in 500 plus customer sites, Linolex Systems sold 3 million units in 1975 — a year before Apple Computer was first incorporated in 1976.
At this time, Lexitron Corporation also produced a series of dedicated word processing microcomputers. Lexitron was the first to use a full size video display screen (CRT) in its models by 1978. Lexitron also used 5-1/4 inch floppy diskettes, which were the standard in the personal computer field. The program disk was inserted in one drive, and the system booted up. The data diskette was then put in the second drive. The operating system and the word processing program were combined in one program.
Another of the early word processing adopters was Vydec, which created in 1973, the first modern text processor, the “Vydec Word Processing System”. It had built-in multiple functions like the ability to share content by diskette and print it. The Vydec Word Processing System sold for $12,000 at the time, (about $60,000 adjusted for inflation).
The Redactron Corporation (organized by Evelyn Berezin in 1969) designed and manufactured editing systems, including correcting/editing typewriters, cassette and card units, and eventually a word processor called the Data Secretary. The Burroughs Corporation acquired Redactron in 1976. A CRT-based system by Wang Laboratories became one of the most popular systems of the 1970s and early 1980s. The Wang displayed text on a CRT screen, and incorporated virtually every fundamental characteristic of word processors as we know them today, a true office machine, affordable by organizations such as medium-sized law firms, and easily learned and operated by secretarial staff.
The phrase “word processor” rapidly came to refer to CRT-based machines similar to Wang’s. Numerous machines of this kind emerged, typically marketed by traditional office-equipment companies such as IBM, Lanier (AES Data machines – re-badged), CPT, and NBI. All were specialized, dedicated, proprietary systems, with prices in the $10,000 range. Cheap general-purpose personal computers were still the domain of hobbyists.
Word processing software
The final step in word processing came with the advent of the personal computer in the late 1970s and 1980s and with the development of word processing software. Word processing systems that would create much more complex and capable text were developed and prices began to fall, making them more accessible to the public.
In December 1976, Electric Pencil was first offered for sale by Michael Shrayer Software. This was the first word processing software package for a microcomputer. In 1978 WordStar appeared on the market which then dominated the market. The first word processing software became popular among computer owners with CP/M, then DOS, then Microsoft Windows. WordStar was replaced by WordPerfect, which differed from WordStar in an important way—it kept the key commands off-screen, putting the focus on the words instead – in the mid-80s, becoming the then “standard” for DOS . WordPerfect turned word processing software into big business.
Most early word processing software required users to memorize semi-mnemonic key combinations rather than pressing keys such as “copy” or “bold”. Moreover, many early PCs lacked cursor keys; for example WordStar used the E-S-D-X-centered “diamond” for cursor navigation. However, the price differences between dedicated word processors and general-purpose PCs, and the value added to the latter by software such as “killer app” spreadsheet applications, e.g. VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3, were so compelling that personal computers and word processing software became serious competition for the dedicated machines and soon dominated the market.
Then in the late 1980s innovations such as the advent of laser printers, a “typographic” approach to word processing (WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get), using bitmap displays with multiple fonts (pioneered by the Xerox Alto computer and Bravo word processing program), and graphical user interfaces such as “copy and paste” (another Xerox PARC innovation, with the Gypsy word processor). These were popularized by MacWrite on the Apple Macintosh in 1983, and Microsoft Word on the IBM PC in 1984. These were probably the first true WYSIWYG word processors to become known to many people.
Of particular interest also is the standardization of TrueType fonts used in both Macintosh and Windows PCs. While the publishers of the operating systems provide TrueType typefaces, they are largely gathered from traditional typefaces converted by smaller font publishing houses to replicate standard fonts. A demand for new and interesting fonts, which can be found free of copyright restrictions, or commissioned from font designers, occurred.
The growing popularity of the Windows operating system in the 1990s later took Microsoft Word along with it. Originally called “Microsoft Multi-Tool Word”, this program quickly became a synonym for “word processor”. Microsoft 1983 added an important tool to the word-processing workflow: the mouse. Eventually, that addition would lead to its full blossoming as a GUI-based editor that most everyone in most every office now uses.
A VIDEO EXPLAINING THE WAY WORD PROCESSING CAN BE USED