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Beacon Senior News

What exactly is a word processor?

Oct 01, 2020 01:21PM ● By Adam Cochran

Is it simpler than a computer?

The topic of this month’s column was prompted by a reader question, which I always appreciate.

Joy asked: “Dear Adam, I’m old enough to have relied on a typewriter for many years. I purchased a Chromebook, which has many nice document features, but is there something simpler? I just want to write letters, articles, reports and print them. I don’t understand the capabilities and features of the commonly referred to “word processor.” Is this a separate electronic device I can purchase? As an elderly woman, I appreciate your patience and understanding.”

Oh, boy! What a great question.

I grew up with a love of typewriters. I think they’re beautiful (Google “Oliver Typewriter Company” and you’ll see what I mean). I also grew up with an appreciation for the ability to compile words on a page almost as quickly as those words come into your mind.

Generally, kids today aren’t even taught how to type in school anymore. They’re raised using a
QWERTY keyboard. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen parents hover over their teens and ask, “When did you learn to type?” Today, it’s a skill that’s acquired alongside learning to speak.

“Word processing” is a term used to define the entire process of creating a document. It’s a concept, a physical device, and a type of software. In the days of a typewriter, you typed letters and reports, or you filled out predesigned forms. Word processing refers to both the typing and creation of the forms.

The devices once known as word processors are now obsolete. Typewriters are still being manufactured, but computers have taken over the role of word processing machines that allowed you to create a document on a screen before the words were printed on paper. Today, the term “word processor” generally refers to a program that allows you to type, create documents and build forms.

There are a few online word processors that eliminate the complexities of form creation and focus primarily on typing and document creation. I often recommend Hemingway ( for people who just want to put words on a page. The online version is free and it’s only $10 for the offline app.

The biggest difference between “word processing” and “typewriter-ing” is the workflow. With a computer, the process is backwards. Start by putting the words on the screen. Next, edit the document. If you can create, save and print a document, you are 80 percent there. Last, add embellishments like bold, underline, italics, indent, etc.

Once you have mastered these basics, you’ll find that you’ve learned important concepts that will help you customize the look and feel of the document you’re creating.

I find that most people get overwhelmed by what technology can do more than they get flustered by what it actually does. Don’t think about all of the things your word processing program can do. Just focus on the things you want to do.

Read more talking digital.