Word Processor - Characteristics


Word processing typically implies the presence of text manipulation functions that extend beyond a basic ability to enter and change text, such as automatic generation of:

  • batch mailings using a form letter template and an address database (also called mail merging);
  • indices of keywords and their page numbers;
  • tables of contents with section titles and their page numbers;
  • tables of figures with caption titles and their page numbers;
  • cross-referencing with section or page numbers;
  • footnote numbering;
  • new versions of a document using variables (e.g. model numbers, product names, etc.)

Other word processing functions include spell checking (actually checks against wordlists), "grammar checking" (checks for what seem to be simple grammar errors), and a "thesaurus" function (finds words with similar or opposite meanings). Other common features include collaborative editing, comments and annotations, support for images and diagrams and internal cross-referencing.

Word processors can be distinguished from several other, related forms of software:

Text editors were the precursors of word processors. While offering facilities for composing and editing text, they do not format documents. This can be done by batch document processing systems, starting with TJ-2 and RUNOFF and still available in such systems as LaTeX (as well as programs that implement the paged-media extensions to HTML and CSS). Text editors are now used mainly by programmers, website designers, computer system administrators, and, in the case of LaTeX by mathematicians and scientists (for complex formulas and for citations in rare languages). They are also useful when fast startup times, small file sizes, editing speed and simplicity of operation are preferred over formatting.

Later desktop publishing programs were specifically designed to allow elaborate layout for publication, but often offered only limited support for editing. Typically, desktop publishing programs allowed users to import text that was written using a text editor or word processor.

Almost all word processors enable users to employ styles, which are used to automate consistent formatting of text body, titles, subtitles, highlighted text, and so on.

Styles greatly simplify managing the formatting of large documents, since changing a style automatically changes all text that the style has been applied to. Even in shorter documents styles can save a lot of time while formatting. However, most help files refer to styles as an 'advanced feature' of the word processor, which often discourages users from using styles regularly.

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