Word Processing

Unlike a simple text editing application, a word-processing program lets you create documents that incorporate formatting, including different fonts, font styles and other layout options.

The TextEdit application, as supplied with Mac OS X, is adequate for many users. This has the ability to read and create files with the same format as Microsoft’s Word application, albeit with some limitations, as well as standard text files and Rich Text Format (RTF) files. Other general-purpose applications, such as AppleWorks for the Mac OS, can create different kinds of documents as well as word-processing files. This particular application produces the following types:-

Word-processing (WP)

Spreadsheet (SS)

Database (DB)

Drawing graphic (GR)

Painting (PT)

All of these file types are unique, even they’re create by the one application, AppleWorks. For example, if you use the application to create a word-processing file the document always remains a word-processing file, even if you insert a spreadsheet or other elements into the document.

  Inside a WP Application

Unlike a basic text editor, a word processing application doesn’t impose restrictions on the amount of text you can include in a file and lets you use complex formatting, including outlines and style sheets. It usually features a toolbar at the top of each window, typically in the form shown below:-

This example has buttons for setting justification, line spacing, and for adding tab marks. The ruler, which has adjusters for paragraph indents or margins, also shows the current tab positions.


Editing shortcuts are often available. For example, you can select a word by double-clicking on it, while clicking three or four times selects a line or paragraph. If you double-click and then drag (whilst holding down the mouse) you can select portions of text in word increments. In some applications an arrow cursor appears above selected text, allowing you to move it to a new position.

Most modern WP applications accommodate stylesheets, each of which contains several named styles. This lets you make several adjustments to the selected text in a single operation. For example, you can define a style called Header 1 (Title), as shown in the stylesheet editor for AppleWorks:-

Now, whenever you select some text and choose Header 1 (Title) as a style, the font instantly changes to 24-point Arial Black with a blue colouring. In this application, separate paragraph styles are used for setting paragraph indents, margins or line spacing, as well as font sizes and styles.

Unfortunately, styles can be confusing. For example, if you copy text from one part of a document to another you might think that it would acquire the style used at the destination. In fact, the chosen style of the source text is usually conveyed along with the text, although this may not appear obvious.

Most WP applications let you use an outline to assist in the logical construction of a document, allowing you to move sections of text up and down within such a document’s hierarchy. When used in conjunction with an outline stylesheet you can quickly create the following kind of layout:-

where the line numbering, font styles and line positioning are all determined in the stylesheet.

Special Features

Most modern word-processing applications allow you to include graphics in a document. TextEdit, for example, lets you drag JPEG, TIFF and other image files into the document, which can then be positioned using the standard text alignment buttons. More advanced applications, such as AppleWorks, allow you to paste graphics inline with the text or float them in the body of the document. In some instances you can wrap text around the latter kind of graphic, although the graphic itself can get displaced if you add or remove some of the text.

In many applications, you can use a mail merge feature with a database file. To do this, you create a word-processing document that calls up fields in a separate database file. When the WP document is printed it generates a copy for every entry in the database, thereby creating a set of customised letters. Microsoft’s Word goes further, allowing you to include IF<>THEN<>ELSE<> statements in the document, giving results that are dependent on the contents of the database fields.

Word Processing Files

Most WP applications use a specific file format that’s only understood by the one program. However, such files can be opened in other applications if you have a suitable file translator.

If you can’t find a file translator you can use a Word file or a generic file, as listed below in order of preference. The filename extensions and Mac OS type codes are shown for completeness.

Word Document (DOC)  .doc  WDBN/W6BN/W8BN

As used by Microsoft’s Word application, and also by Apple’s TextEdit application in later versions of Mac OS X, although TextEdit doesn’t support tables or embedded graphics.

Rich Text Format (RTF)  .rtf  TEXT

RTFs are supported by Microsoft Word and other WP applications. Most of the content and formatting is retained, although some applications and translators don’t support embedded graphics.

Fortunately, non-ASCII characters are usually transferred correctly across computer platforms. This is made possible by a header in the file that indicates the character set used in the document. So, if you use a text editor to look in an RTF that uses the Windows (ANSI) character set you’ll see:-


while one that uses the Mac OS character set usually begins with:-


The characters themselves are then encoded using a special escape sequence. For example, the £ (pound) character, represented by hex A3 in the Mac OS character set, is encoded as \'a3.

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)  .htm/.html  TEXT

Some WP applications can save a document as a HTML file. Although HTML isn’t designed for transferring material between computers, it’s a recognised cross-platform format that accommodates styles as well as some layout information. Unfortunately, you can get problems with the following:-

HTML should work reasonably well if only want to view the contents in a Web browser application, although copying text from within such a program can be unpredictable. Unfortunately, opening the HTML file in another WP application can expose you to another tranche of problems.

Portable Document Format (PDF)  .pdf  PDF<space>

Strictly speaking, PDF files are designed for desktop publishing (DTP) applications, which means that they convey styles and formatting very accurately across any computer platform.

PDF files are created using Acrobat Distiller (Adobe) or third-party Mac OS software such as PrintToPDF (James W Walker). Unfortunately, these documents can only be viewed using Apples’s Preview application in Mac OS X, the free Adobe Reader (Adobe) application or other suitable PostScript software. Worse still, copying material from within Reader can be a messy business, often involving a loss of style information.

Plain Text  .txt  TEXT

This can only convey unformatted text that doesn’t include font, font style or other layout information. Although tab characters are included, the actual position of the tabs is lost. In addition, non-ASCII characters and line endings will need to be corrected if the file is used on other computer platforms. This format is best avoided, unless you don’t have any other options.

©Ray White 2004.