1.1 Word Processing versus Formatting


Writing is an exploration. You start with nothing and learn as you go!”

- E. L. Doctorow

Like most other specialized fields, the field of word processing has evolved its own special language. Many of these terms can be confusing and unfamiliar to beginners. We will therefore begin by clarifying common word processing terms and functions.


The term Word Processing refers to the processing or structuring of not only words (in the form of characters and paragraphs) but also controlling the appearance of pages, images, tables, lists and any other content types used to share information. The term Word Processing is a broad term that includes the entire subject of how information is shared.

The term Formatting is similar to the term Word Processing but is a more specific term. Formatting also refers to structuring, controlling or changing the appearance of words (characters and paragraphs), pages, images, tables, lists and any other content types used to share information. For example, some of the skills involved in Word Processing include formatting characters, formatting paragraphs, formatting pages, formatting images and formatting tables.


Appearance versus Content
In web design, formatting the appearance of content is also called Styling. There is a close relationship between formatting the appearance of content in traditional word processing and styling the appearance of content in modern web design. Both involve the separation of content from the appearance of content. This separation allows us to present the same content in many different ways.

Word Processing Tools versus Word Processing Programs
It is important to understand that different word processing programs often contain the same word processing tools. Understanding this makes it easier to move between different word processing programs. So what is the difference between word processing tools and word processing programs?

Word Processing Tools are functions that perform a specific task. These specific tasks can include selecting text, copying text to the clipboard, pasting text, making the text or font size bigger, making the text or font bolder, changing the color of the text, etc. There are literally hundreds of different word processing tools.

Word Processing Programs are collections of word processing menus and toolbars. The three most common word processing programs are Microsoft Word, Google Docs and LibreOffice Writer.

Each of these three programs includes many similar tools. But each also includes some word processing tools that are not present in the other two programs. Each of these programs also organizes tools in a different way.

A huge part of learning how to use any of these three programs is simply learning where important tools and functions are located in these programs and what happens when you click on each button. In many ways, learning how to use a Word Processing program is not that much different than learning how to use all of the buttons on a food processor!


However, word processing programs also include many other functions besides the formatting tools. These other functions include File Saving Options, using your clipboard to copy and paste text and images, creating templates, using a spell checker, word thesaurus, mailer merger, an automatic Table of Contents generator, Undo and Redo buttons, Drawing Tools and dozens of other functions.