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Word Processing


Word processing refers generally to the creation, editing, formatting, storage, and output of both printed and online or electronic documents. Word processing is undoubtedly the most-used business application for personal computers, perhaps alongside World Wide Web browsers and electronic-mail (e-mail) applications.

Word-processing software includes basic applications designed for casual business or home users and powerful, advanced applications capable of meeting the most-demanding needs of businesses. Many word-processing applications are designed for use as part of a suite or integrated group of word-processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs. For example, Microsoft Word, probably the most widely used word-processing software, is part of the Microsoft Office suite, which includes Microsoft's PowerPoint presentation program and Excel spreadsheet program. Corel WordPerfect, a less widely used but very popular word-processing program, is part of Corel's WordPerfect Office suite, which includes Quattro Pro spreadsheet software and Presentations multimedia slide-show software.

Some word-processing software is available as shareware for a relatively small fee or as freeware at no cost. For example, Yeah Write, a basic fill-in-the-blank word processor designed for people who do not want to deal with formatting tasks, is available as shareware. is a complete office suite that includes a powerful word-processing program, WRITER, which is intended as an open-standard, vendor-neutral alternative to proprietary word-processing programs.

Most word processors include the same essential word-processing functions and a variety of more-advanced features for document production and formatting.


Essential word-processing functions can be grouped into the categories of input, manipulation, formatting, and output of text.

Text Input

Typically, text is entered into the word processor from a keyboard; other input methods include:

  • Copying text from other applications (such as from hypertext markup language [HTML] documents, e-mail messages, or online encyclopedias) and pasting it into a word-processing document
  • Scanning printed documents and using optical-character-recognition (OCR) software to convert the scanned documents into text characters
  • Using voice-recognition software to convert spoken words into text characters

Text Manipulation

Text manipulation refers to the "processing" part of word processing. Word processors provide easy methods of deleting, inserting, copying, and moving individual characters, words, phrases, and paragraphseven entire pages of informationwith a few clicks of a mouse button or with such keyboard shortcuts as Ctrl-C to copy, Ctrl-X to cut, and Ctrl-V to paste or insert text. Text can be automatically checked for spelling and for conformance to basic grammatical principles as the text is entered and edited.

The find-and-replace feature in a word processor allows the user to search for every occurrence of a particular character, word, or phrase within a document and replace it with new text. Most word processors also include automatic correction and automatic formatting of common errors and mechanical conventions as text is entered from the keyboard. For example, commonly misspelled words can be automatically corrected as soon as the misspelled words are entered; two spaces entered after the end of a sentence can be changed automatically to one space; a lowercase letter beginning a new sentence can be capitalized automatically. Proper typographic quotation marks ("smart" or "curly" quote marks" and ") and apostrophes (') can be inserted automatically instead of the straight typewriter-style quotation marks entered from the keyboard. Fractions and other symbols can be formatted automatically as their keyboard equivalents are entered. For example, when a fraction for one-half is entered as 1/2, it is changed to the symbol ½ two hyphens () are changed to a long dash (); and (c) is changed to ©.

Text Formatting

Word-processing software typically includes "wizards" or "help" features to provide automated formatting of common business documents. For example, a letter wizard can assist the user to properly format a business letter, and a résumé wizard can help the user format a professional-looking résumé. Templates are another automated formatting feature. A template is a type of pre-formatted, fill-in-the-blank document that is useful for maintaining a specific format each time a document is created, especially when multiple word-processing operators are involved. A newsletter template, for example, allows a user to entered the text of newsletter articles, headlines, and graphics without having to re-create the newsletter layout for each issue of the newsletter.

The most-common formatting tasks are typically performed by the user as a document is created. Individual character and word formatting includes selection of type size, type style, and typeface. Size is measured in points, a unit of measure in which 72 points make up an inch. Typically, 11- or 12-point type is used for basic business documents. Newsletters, annual reports, and other such "designed" documents may use type as small as 8 or 9 points for the basic text and as large as 24, 36, or 48 points (or more) for main titles. Type styles, such as italics, underline, and bold, are easily selected using keyboard shortcuts or by selecting them from the basic font menu. Typefaces (typeface refers to the look or design of the type) are available in thousands of varieties, including such commonly known faces as Times Roman, Arial, Helvetica, and Garamond.

Paragraph formatting includes line spacing, meaning the amount of blank space left between lines of type (single spacing and double spacing, for example); paragraph spacing (the amount of blank space that precedes or follows each paragraph); justification (all lines of type made even at both margins, or left uneven or ragged at the right margin); and indentation (such as a first-line indentation at the beginning of each paragraph).

Page and overall-document formatting includes setting margins (typically 1-inch margins are used on the top, bottom, and both sides of such basic business documents as letters, reports, and memos), creating columns like those used in a newspaper or newsletter, and creating headers and footers (information such as the page number or a chapter title that is repeated at the top or bottom of each page of a document). Most word processors also provide special layout features for formatting outlines, tables, envelopes, and mailing labels.

Text Output

Once text has been created, edited, and formatted into a finished electronic document, it must be put into some tangible form or lasting electronic form to be of practical benefit. That output process usually starts with the saving of the document on the computer's hard drive, a floppy disk, a CD, or a memory device such as a flash drive. Saving the document, in fact, is an activity that should take place frequently during the creation and editing processes to guard against loss due to problems such as electrical-power failure, computer malfunctions, and operator error.

Printing a document on paper is the most common output method; other output methods include faxing a document directly from the word processor by use of a computer modem, sending the document to another person by e-mail, and converting the word-processing document to various other electronic formats for online viewing or for eventual printing from other applications. For example, word-processing documents are frequently converted to HTML for use as Web pages, to portable document format (PDF) files, and to rich text format (RTF) files for use in other computer programs (particularly other word-processing programs).


Although most word-processing users tend to learn and use primarily the basic word-processing features, numerous more-advanced features are available in most word processors to make word processing much easier to complete in less time. Taking the time to learn some advanced word-processing features and functions usually has a high payoff in terms of productivity and professionalism.

Some of the more-common advanced word-processing features and functions are described briefly below:


Styles are user-created formatting commands that allow great control over repetitive formatting structures within a document. For example, using a "style" for each type of heading in a report will ensure consistent formatting of the headings and will eliminate the need for a user to manually format each heading as it is created.

Macros and Merging

Macros are stored keystrokes, or sets of editing and formatting commands, that can be replayed whenever needed. Macros can boost productivity and take much of the tedium out of repetitive word-processing tasks. Merging is the process of using lists of such information as names, addresses, phone numbers, product descriptions or model numbers, and so on to fill in designated fields or blanks in documents to create mass mailings, address labels, directories, and catalogs.

Version Control

Version-control features allow a user to track the various stages of editing that a document may pass through, including versions created by multiple users involved in the creation and editing of a document. Related features such as the ability to track changes made in a document enable multiple users to review suggested document changes and to accept or reject proposed changes.

Automatic References and Indexes

Documents that include tables of contents, cross-references, indexes, footnotes, endnotes, and captions will benefit from the capability of a word processor to automatically generate and format these items.

Desktop-Publishing Capabilities

Professional-looking documents such as newsletters, advertisements, annual reports, brochures, and business cards can be designed with most modern word-processing software.

Graphical images from clip-art collections, digital photographs, and scanned images, and drawings created with graphics programs, can be integrated easily into word-processing documents. Pages and paragraphs can be enclosed with decorative borders. Background images and colors can be added to pages within a document. Graphical elements such as lines, boxes, arrows, and artistic textual headings can be created quickly and easily within most word-processing programs.

Although word processors are generally not as sophisticated as desktop-publishing software or page-layout programs in their capabilities for setting type and for working with graphical elements, they can be used to create attractive, professional-looking documents that go beyond the basic layout and formatting of letters, memos, and reports. Using a word-processing program to create designed documents is often preferable to using a high- end desktop-publishing program, however, because word-processing users are not required to become proficient in using another program and because documents within an organization or department are created and maintained using the same application.

see also Information Processing ; Office Technology


Bucki, Lisa A. (2005). Learning computer applications: Projects and exercises (3rd ed.). New York: Pearson Prentice Hall.

O'Leary, Timothy J., and O'Leary, Linda I. (2006). Computing essentials (Rev. ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Shelly, Gary B., Cashman, Thomas J., and Vermaat, Misty E. (2003). Discovering computers 2004: A gateway to information. Boston: Course Technology.

Ray L. Young

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Word Processors

Word Processors

How many typewriters are you likely to find in an office today? Probably none, but in the mid-1960s they were plentiful. That was when IBM coined the term "word processing" to market their Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter, also known as the MTST. It was very different from other typewriters because it recorded words on magnetic tape and printed them on paper at the same time. Each tape could store many documents, making it possible to retrieve any of them for later printing, or for generating multiple copies of the same document. This was the first device to allow semi-automatic production of personalized letters: after the user typed the names and addresses, the machine took over and completed the task.

The MTST underwent many transformations, and in 1974 it used internal storage along with external storage on magnetic tapes or cards. However, fast typists could not reach their full potential because it was still a mechanical device. It was not until the introduction of CRT-based word processing equipment in 1976, with the Wang Computer System, that operators were released from the constraints of mechanical printing devices.

By the mid-1970s customer demand provided the thrust for a new industry: special-purpose computers dedicated to word processing. New vendors of word processors, such as Wang Laboratories, surpassed IBM in sales and product innovation. Word processors have undergone many transformations while evolving from dedicated units to multi-purpose personal computers that can perform several functions, including word processing, database management, and accessing the Internet. "Word processor" now refers primarily to the software used create and manipulate text documents, rather than to the hardware on which the software is run.

Functions of Word Processing Systems

Most word processing systems provide, in a single software package, all the necessary tools that users need to produce a finished document, from entering and editing text, to formatting and proofreading it, and finally to saving and printing it. Here are the steps one would follow to create a document using a word processing program.

Entering Text.

A word processing document starts as an empty window on the computer screen with a flashing cursor bar that indicates your location in the document. As you type, the cursor moves to the right, and the characters are displayed on the screen and stored in the computer's memory. You can fix your typing mistakes at any time by pressing the Delete or Backspace keys. Word processors are equipped with the "word wrap" feature, which automatically moves a word to the next line once a line has reached its full capacity. Therefore, the only time you need to press the Return or Enter key is when you want to begin a new line, such as at the end of a paragraph. On typewriters, a typist had to press the return key to begin a new line of text.

Editing Text.

Word processors make it easy for you to change and rearrange your work in many different ways. For example you can easily:

  • Navigate to different parts of a document by scrolling;
  • Search for and replace specific words or phrases throughout a document;
  • Insert text at any point;
  • Delete text from any section;
  • Move text from one part of a document to another;
  • Copy text from one part and duplicate it in another section of the same document or to another document.

Formatting Text.

This refers to arranging a document so it will look the way you want it to once it is printed. All word processors allow you to format individual characters, lines, paragraphs, or whole documents. WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) systems also give you a good view on screen of what the final product will look like.

Formatting characters affects the size of the characters (point size), their style (typeface, sometimes called font), and whether they are underlined, written in italic, or displayed in bold, heavy type. The formatting of lines and paragraphs determines the spacing between lines of text, the placement of indents or tabs, and the finished length and position of the lines of type on a page. Document formatting applies to margin settings, as well as headers and footersblocks of text that appear at the top and bottom of every page.

Other text formatting features give you the ability to:

  • Create documents with variable-width multiple columns;
  • Perform automatic footnoting;
  • Generate table-of-contents and indexing for books and other long works;
  • Create and format multicolumn tables;
  • Attach hidden text, pop-up notes, or audio notes that can be seen or heard by the user but do not show up in the final document;
  • Incorporate graphics created with other applications.

Additional Tools.

Word processing does not end with editing and formatting. Most high-end word processors also include a built-in outliner, spell checker, grammar and style checker, thesaurus, mail merger, and indexer. As word processors become more powerful, they take on many features previously found only in desktop publishing (DTP) software such as merging graphics, tables, and text into one document. Many word processors are capable of producing professional-quality books and periodicals, so the line between word processors and DTP programs is likely to fade with time.

see also Office Automation Systems; Productivity Software; Wang, An.

Ida M. Flynn


Brightman, Richard W., and Jeffrey M. Dimsdale. Using Computers in an Information Age. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers Inc., 1986.

Laudon, Kenneth C., Carol Guercio Traver, and Jane Price Laudon. Information Technology and Society. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1994.

Lee, J. A. N. Computer Pioneers. Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Society Press, 1995.

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word processing

word processing, use of a computer program or a dedicated hardware and software package to write, edit, format, and print a document. Text is most commonly entered using a keyboard similar to a typewriter's, although handwritten input (see pen-based computer) and audio input (as for dictation) devices have been introduced.

Word processors have various functions that allow a person to revise text without retyping an entire document. As the text is entered or after it has been retrieved, sections ranging from words and sentences to paragraphs and pages can be moved, copied, deleted, altered, and added to while displayed. As word processors have become more sophisticated, such functions as word counting, spell checking, footnoting, and index generation have been added. In addition, a document's format—type size, line spacing, margins, page length, and the like—usually can be easily altered. To aid in these alterations, the text is displayed as it will appear when printed with indented paragraphs and lists, multiple columns, tables, etc; this is called a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) display.

Word processors are distinguished from text editors and desktop publishing systems. Text editors are designed for creating and editing computer programs. While they have features found in simple word processors, such as search and replace, that make the entry and editing of words and numbers easier, text editors provide only the most primitive facilities for text formatting and printing. Desktop publishers may include only simple word processing features but provide enhanced formatting functions, such as routines for merging text and graphics into complex page layouts.

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word processing

word processing A facility that enables users to compose documents using a computer with facilities to edit, re-format, store, and print documents with maximum flexibility. A typical word-processing system consists of a personal computer running a word-processing program, and an associated printer, such as an inkjet printer, capable of producing high-quality output of many different text fonts as well as diagrams and pictures.

The systems available today fall into three main categories: stand-alone systems supporting one operator; networked systems enabling several operators to share printers and files; hybrid systems attached to a central mainframe or minicomputer and able to perform additional functions. The following features are generally provided.$B Document creation and editing, including the ability to insert, delete, copy, and move text around in a document; $B include text and/or graphics from other files; $B search for and replace strings in the document. $B Checking of spelling according to general and specialist dictionary files. $B Document formatting and printing using a choice of paper sizes and formats with multiple copies as required. $B Text justification to specified margins with automatic hyphenation. $B Ability to create a document from a standard template, e.g. one containing a company letter heading. $B Use of alternative character sets such as bold, italic, underlined. $B Layout of tables, figures, etc. $B Substitution of variable information when printing the document, for easy production of form letters, etc.

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word processor

word processor Computer system used for writing and printing text. The system may be designed just for this purpose, in which case it is called a dedicated word processor. More common is a general-purpose personal computer running a word processing program. Text typed on the computer keyboard displays on the screen. Any errors are easily corrected before a ‘printout’ or ‘hard copy’ is produced on a printer connected to the computer. If required, the text can be stored in code on a magnetic disk for future use.

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word processor

word proc·es·sor • n. a dedicated computer or program for storing, manipulating, and formatting text entered from a keyboard and providing a printout. ∎  a person who uses such a program.

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"word processor." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 25 May. 2017 <>.

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word processor

word processor
1. A computer program to perform word processing.

2. A system designed specifically for word processing.

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