WHERE would the personal computer be without word processing? Writing letters, reports and other types of documents is what most popular computers are used for. When buying a word processing program, what features should you look for? Quite a few.
Even the most basic programs now have a wide range of editing and formatting tools. Cut, Copy and Paste are essential parts of word processing. To edit text, you select it, usually with the mouse, and it can then be manipulated. It can be deleted (Cut), stored in the memory (Copy) or put somewhere else in the document (Paste). It is also possible to highlight text and drag it to the desired location - this is called "drag and drop".
Look also for Undo and FindReplace in the list of editing tools. Undo allows you to cancel your last keyboard or mouse command. FindReplace lets you select a particular word or set of characters in a document and replace it with another. Late name changes in children's stories, for instance, can be handled with ease.
Formatting tools are used to define the look and layout of a piece of writing. They determine the size, style and colour of the text. Paragraph and document style is also created with formatting tools. Together, font and paragraph formatting are essential to create attractive work.
Spellcheck is an indispensable feature, whether interactive - Microsoft Word's Intellisense will, unprompted, capitalise the beginning of each sentence and automatically correct simple typing errors such as "teh" - or passive, where a body of writing can be checked and corrected at leisure.
At the top end of the market, programs have a serious personality crisis. Word processors aspire to be image editors, drawing programs, desktop publishers or Web page creators. The most popular and successful of these, Microsoft Word, bristles with productivity tools.
Macintosh and Acorn users have a wide choice of creative and powerful packages. ClarisWorks has long been a favourite with Apple supporters, not least because of its low price and small memory requirements. The new ClarisWorks Office is two-thirds the price of Word. ClarisWorks for Kids is even better value.
Textease, for Acorn and Windows, is the highly-acclaimed package that won the BETT Gold Award for Best Primary Software in 1997. The simple iconic menu bar conceals an array of powerful features. Text can be placed anywhere on the page by simply clicking and typing, and can then be bolded, italicised or underlined. Images can be easily imported and, once on the page, manipulated in various ways. An Undo function is notably missing, however.
The addition of Textease HTML (hyper text mark-up language) ReaderWriter enables creation of Web pages, and Talking Textease permits your on-screen words to be read back by a strange electronic voice.
There are plenty of other educational processors to suit different needs. Write Away, by Black Cat, features a Windows-type menu. The program can also be adapted to suit different ages and abilities. There are also PenDown andClicker 2, both of which are available with speech feedback option; BearWords 2, which has elementary or advanced levels; and for younger children and learners with special needs, Pages from Semerc, which won a special award from the National Association for Special Educational Needs.
WHERE TO FIND HELP
Help and Training
The AOL DTP forum (keyword: Desktop Publishing) has a comprehensive collection of publishing tips, hints and useful information.
Key to Learning Interactive guides to QuarkXPress, Adobe PageMaker and Desktop Design for the Macintosh and Word for Windows. The interface for the CDs was developed in conjunction with Ultralab, the respected research centre at Anglia Polytechnic University. (08000 381114) Peachpit Press The Peachpit catalogue has an excellent section on graphics and desktop design with manuals on XPress and PageMaker. For general design advice look out for "The Non-Designer's Design Book" by Robin Williams.
The At a Glance series is recommended for the novice user and covers Word.
There are "for Dummy" books on Microsoft Publisher, Desktop Publishing and Design, PageMaker and QuarkXPress.
www.idgbooks.com or www.dummies.com.