Word processing is an absolutely invaluable skill to have nowadays. Home computers, smartphones and tablets all use the same QWERTY keyboard format for data input, and other than a mouse or touch-screen, the keyboard represents the only commonly-used method of entering information into a computer, or any of its innumerable software programs.
Being able to competently navigate a keyboard is therefore essential for any task involving a PC or mobile device, and the ability to use a word processor is equally vital in being able to use email, prepare documents, communicate with people or even complete online forms.
Courses on offer
Word processing courses are popular all over the country, and they are typically divided into two different groups:
a) Beginner, intermediate and advanced. The titles may vary slightly, but the essence of these three distinct courses remains the same:
i) Beginner word processing courses should teach students the basics, such as opening new files and saving them, printing and emailing documents, and the holy trinity of Cut, Copy and Paste.
ii) Intermediate courses will generally move onto more technical issues like setting margins and page headers, inserting tables or objects, and performing mail merges.
iii) Finally, expert or advanced word processing courses usually introduce the lesser-known attributes of these packages, such as adding comments, indexes or macros (a series of customisable actions that can be performed automatically by clicking a single button).
b) Specific topics. Some word processing courses will be dedicated to a single element or action, such as inserting references and hyperlinks, or using illustrations and graphics. These are very useful when an updated software package is launched with new features, or for people who can navigate through the basics but want to know more about a specific element like formatting content or using footnotes.
Word processing or typing – which course should I choose?
Complete beginners may wish to consider undertaking a more basic course in typing, which will focus on teaching people to use a keyboard effectively. The positioning of letters on modern keyboards (often referred to as QWERTY, after the first six letters of the top row) was specifically intended to stop people typing faster than old-fashioned typewriters could cope with. As a consequence, learning where each letter resides can be a frustrating process for a while, and for novices, it usually involves searching for each letter and then pressing it with a single finger, before starting the process all over again for the next letter.
However, typing courses are by their very nature fairly limited in scope. Most word processing courses will teach a far wider spectrum of skills, taking into account the huge power and flexibility offered by modern word processing packages, as well as the subtle ways in which they try to make people’s lives easier, with features like spell-checking and automatic document saving.
Over the years, many word processing packages have been launched, and some have enjoyed moderate success, including WordPerfect, MacWrite and OpenOffice Writer. The explosion in Cloud computing (where documents are stored remotely, rather than on your own machine’s internal storage devices) has also seen GoogleDocs achieve some success, combining conventional word processing functionality with instant file sharing among colleagues, and enabling users to access their files from anywhere in the world.
…and the champion
Despite facing widespread competition since its launch in 1983, the daddy of all word processing packages is still Microsoft Word – the centrepiece of the company’s iconic Office package, and believed to be responsible for over 90 per cent of the world’s word processing documents. Word’s legendary status is largely thanks to Microsoft’s dominance of computer operating systems in recent decades, but its success can also be attributed to its ease of use, even among relative technology novices.
Since its launch 30 years ago, Word has enabled users to create, edit and save documents with ease. A crisp white screen and flashing vertical cursor encourage people to begin typing instantly, while subsequent inclusions like the AutoCorrect facility (which can instantly repair misspelled words) and the ability to add graphics and tables into a document have enabled more proficient users to exploit Word’s deceptively comprehensive functionality.
Some word processing courses focus only on Word and will offer students the chance to learn as much of this ubiquitous program’s abilities and functionality as they need, and the sheer diversity of these is testament to the depth of programming and versatility of Microsoft’s most famous software package. Beginners may not need to progress beyond the options provided in the first two menu bars, while advanced students can get to grips with split windows, editing restrictions and tracking changes made by other people. Once students begin learning what this remarkable word processing package can accomplish, and how it can help users with day-to-day functionality, its market dominance becomes easy to understand.
By Neil Cumins