Why are older people good at word-processing?

Because they learnt the essential rules of English (or whatever)

Why are we looking at LibreOffice?

Simply because it is NOT an Apple or a MicroSoft or other commercial product.

Who knows the history of computer word-processing?

“In 1964 IBM brought out the MT/ST (Magnetic Tape/Selectric Typewriter), which combined the features of the Selectric with a magnetic tape drive. Magnetic tape was the first reusable storage medium for typed information. ... The term was first used in IBM's marketing of the MT/ST as a "word processing" machine.” (16.Dec 13, 1986)

See “A Brief History of Word Processing (Through 1986)” / by Brian Kunde – available from https://web.stanford.edu/~bkunde/fb-press/articles/wdprhist.html

But for normal people?

Zardax (1981?)

Zardax was developed in Queensland, Australia, and was the first word processor for PCs and was used in the Queensland Department of Primary Industries.

Bank Street Writer (1981?)

Bank Street Writer was the first in America for PCs for kids but everyone used it. Note computers, at the time, were upper case only!

Modern suites...

StarOffice (1985) became OpenOffice (1999) and went on to become, among others, LibreOffice

Open source project available from https://www.libreoffice.org

Let’s think about a writing task – a book, a thesis, whatever...just a letter or notes about treasures that we would like our children to know about – how else do they know why we have kept that miniature teapot?

We write because we have something to say. An interesting exercise for me, many years ago, was writing an approach to a problem in despair – why didn’t those silly people understand what was obvious? The interesting thing for me was that by writing in passion, I captured the passion, and then I could re-write the work as something that my audience would want to read. The lesson was that once the ideas were committed to text, they could be ‘treated’ as we learnt to do at school – change the mood, change the perspective, change the mode. The text looks like text, is separated from the writer so the writer can become the reader – one of the hardest things for a writer to learn is to read their own work as another might.

But what if you can’t write? My daughter was like that. At school, she would sit panicking that she had nothing to say. I used to ask her what she knew, and by the time she had told me, she knew she could write whatever. She learnt the lesson and used to write without my help because she knew that all I could do was ask the question and leave her to it.

One last story is how to help someone who is learning to write – read their work and tell them what YOU read – not what they wrote – then they can change it to say what they wanted it to say.

So, we are going to write a long story – how our family came to be living in the Bellarine. So we start writing. There are so many little things we want to fit into the story. As we write we find that we should have said something about Fred, but where to put that? We write it in but always wonder if it would have been better near the bit about Freda, instead of in the section about building the house.

As we work we find the text size too small and we can increase the size page by page but it’d be easier if everything was a bit bigger while we work on it and then we can choose what size to print it. It’s a bit like that with the font too. I used to like to do everything in Tekton font – a pretty girlie font. The males in my lab hated it. Fine – I could use Tekton and then let them see only Times New Roman? That worked.

So I work on and write the section about Fred and Freda – lots to say and it’s not clear whether it is better to tell the story chronologically or by topic. Perhaps I should have headings for the sections so I can easily see what I have?

But here is another problem. I am not a good speller and I often make typing mistakes. Funny that I don’t pick up these problems but if someone was to check the text, say because we were going to make a book, the best way to do that is to read all the text backwards. What a job! And there are those pesky things that I may not worry about when speaking but which look bad when they appear in text. Grammar! Mmmm… a habit of splitting infinitives, and of using ‘however’ as a gentle form of ‘but’. And perhaps I have forgotten, to be honest, how to do words like practice, and organise. In the first case, is it practice or practise? And is it organise or organize? And there has been so much emphasis on ‘I’ in recent times that I need to be sure to use ‘I’ and ‘me’ correctly.

And that letter from Fred’s mother. Where should I put that? Does it fit in as an illustration, or is its content really something that should be part of the text? Should I have an image of the original instead of re-writing it to show the amazing handwriting? What is someone is reading this using a screen reader so the text in the image is ‘invisible’?

And that reminds me: as I have worked on I have referred to lots of things – not always things of mine but I think some readers might like to follow up the references. I should make sure to have the proper citation so that can be done. But what if I am referring to something on a webpage. Well, that’s not a problem but what if it’s a page that will change – like the headlines of a newspaper? I will need to be able to show the reader the webpage as I saw it, so I will need to remember when I saw it and even copy it, perhaps?

So I guess good writing starts with an outline. The planning of the text can be done by elaborating the outline or it can be done higgeldy-piggeldy – if what is added is fitted into the outline at the appropriate level, it can be moved about if what else in that section is moved about – so re-ordering is done easily. (But older versions of Apple Pages do not support the use of outlines!!)

Now once I have my outline, I can work away but it is sometimes nice to check how the text will look. I have headings, and sub-headings, and captions for images, and a couple of simple tables, and some stuff that I’d like to highlight and some things are not being written by me so perhaps they should be marked clearly as quotations. The important thing is to have each of these types of text marked according to their type. There is always a temptation to mark them by using bold here, and larger font there, and italic characters in some cases, and upper or lower case. Fine, but one problem from this sort of thing can be a messy text, and the other is that it becomes frozen according to my ‘direct formatting’. What is meant by this is that instead of first clarifying the structure of the text, and then deciding how headings, quotations, etc will look, I am doing this bit-by-bit. Instead, if I have simply structured my text, I can have a style for elements of that structure and easily play about with the look of the text – and everything will transform neatly. Incidentally, I also make it possible for others to transform the text – I have a colleague who, for some reason, sends emails in a font-size that looks like a spider wrote the email. What suits her bright young eyes does not work for me! And anyway, I might like to read it in Tekton!

So, so far we have talked about:

  • outlines

  • element structure

  • styles

If we go to the trouble to make a document look the way we want, we could save that information as a template and so we would not have to set up a new document to look like the old one – that’s what happens with the BMUG newsletter.


  • templates

As we work along, or afterwards, we would like the computer to help us with:

  • spelling checker

  • grammar checker, and maybe a

  • thesaurus

Sometimes as we write we just want to concentrate on putting down the ideas so we are not interested at that moment in the layout, or we are not interested in how the outline looks because we are focussed on a section and it doesn’t matter right now. So we can choose to change the ‘view’ of the text that we have at any one time.


  • writing mode

  • outline mode

  • print mode

If we are working on a big document, and we have a lot of text, perhaps we need to construct a table of contents – just doing that and looking at it can help organise the text. (In old versions of Pages, I suspect this is the only way to work with the ‘outline’.)


  • table of contents

But if there are lots of different things that might be of interest to different readers in different ways, perhaps we need an index.


  • index

You are noticing, I am sure, that these are all functions of a writer but, given a word-processor, they can be made very easy. So we can think of the functions as being managed by a series of ‘tools’. You are sure to be familiar with find/replace? How amazingly useful is that? Well, it can find not just words, but different types of formatting, or punctuation, or lots of other things (you can actually program your word-processor by making what is called a macro to teach it to do something for you). To add a macro, ask the computer to follow as you do whatever it is, and then give the process a name, and then you can activate it whenever you like.

  • macros

And if you are like me, you don’t trust your writing so after you have done all you can, you want someone else to read it. As happened recently to me when I asked a friend to read a document, the document did not make much sense because I had assumed that a word I was using was common, but she did not know it. So it is good to ask people for comments, perhaps to edit a document for you, etc..

So, we get:

  • comments

  • track changes

  • document comparison

Finally, if we want our document to look good, we might want headers and footers, page numbers, something to say what section we are reading, etc.

So we get:

  • page numbers

    • placement

    • colour

  • headers and footers

    • with different numbers for preface pages from main text (Roman and then Arabic, e.g.), variable chapter headings, ...

Now if what we are working on is a bit complicated, we might want footnotes – at the end of each printed page, or the end of the doc? And we might want to link to other parts of the text, or to footnotes or references or even the WorldWideWeb.

So add in:

  • links (for refs?)

If this work is to be used by others, we might want info about who wrote it, how many times it was edited, by whom, what is the subject of it – the title is not always helpful in this regard, etc…

So we want:

metadata (doc info)

and when the doc is finished, we might want it on the Web but also on paper and perhaps in an email as a PDF. Word-processors love helping with this if the text is properly structured and styles have been used:

  • export in different formats.

There are, of course, even more things that word-processors do, but I hope you can imagine yourself as a writer and being assisted by your computer to do a task that otherwise might be a little bit too challenging.

So, homework!

Please start with an outline, write a short story about something, and on your USB stick provide us with a PDF, a word-processor version, and even perhaps an HTML version.