I have noticed one thing about those of us who use word processors—many of us don’t use them very well. We tend to make the same mistakes that fall into two broad categories. The first category is to make the word processor do something the hard way. For example, many people press the Enter key multiple times to add space between paragraphs or to force a paragraph to jump to the top of a page. Others press the Tab or Space key to align numbers in a column. Word processors have features to add space or align numbers, and many more tasks like them, more accurately and more quickly.
The other category is not even realizing what we are supposed to do with a word processor. Many of us know that words need to be spelled correctly, or that sentences start with an upper-case letter; these are tasks that any author must perform, and we know how to make a word processor do those tasks for us. However, many of us do not know about about page layout, pagination, or formatting. As a result, many documents suffer from awkward page breaks, blank headers and footers, or missing cross references.
There are myriad books on word processing. Almost all of them, such as those in the Dummies series or by Microsoft Press, are excellent at telling you how to use a word processor. If you know that you need to center the text on the page or set words in boldface, those books will tell you how to do it. This blog has a different approach: it tells you what you need to do, and gives hints at how to do them. For the details for your specific version of your specific word processor, you can use the search phrases appearing throughout this blog. Using this approach, you’ll start to identify some of the bad habits that creep into using a word processor, and you’ll spend less time fighting the software and more time using it efficiently and productively.
This blog is primarily for those who write non-fiction. By definition, a work of non-fiction is (presumably) anything that is true. Authors of non-fiction typically generate reports, journal articles, theses, and contracts. In the broad sense, non-fiction also includes resumés, cover letters, recipes, diaries, and wedding invitations. Anyone who composes these types of publications in a word processor should find something useful in this blog. Throughout these posts we’ll meet fictitious researchers, brides, historians, cooks, and many other people who do the daily battle with their word processors. I hope you enjoy meeting them as much as I have enjoyed creating them.
– Mark Lautman