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1.6: Computer-Based Writing

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    Learning Objectives
    • Demonstrate proficiency with basic word processor features
    • Demonstrate proficiency with intermediate word processor features
    • Demonstrate proficiency with advanced word processor features

    Popular culture holds a romantic image of writers as solitary figures, scribbling with pen and paper in attics by candlelight.

    Realistically speaking, though, most writing we do these days is electronic. While there is great joy in putting pencil to paper, keyboarding and word processing are survival skills in college. Your professors will expect much of the work you do for classes to be typed, and either printed or submitted electronically. Additionally, most employers will expect and require you to be comfortable with using Microsoft Word and similar programs.

    Two girls in headscarves working on computers

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    This section is designed to hold a little something for everyone. The video series walks viewers through features of Microsoft Word. Start at the level that seems the best fit for you. Even if you’re a seasoned word processor, you’ll encounter some tips that will save you time and effort in formatting documents for college.

    Beginning Word Processing Skills

    Most writing you do for college will need to be typed, and often submitted electronically. Mastering the basics of word processing tools will make this process much more comfortable to do.

    The most popular word processing program is Microsoft Word, part of the Microsoft Office Suite. Most college computer labs have this program available, and you can often purchase it for a reduced rate through your college bookstore.

    Some classes will explicitly require you to use Microsoft Word for your classwork. Otherwise, you’re free to use whatever program you wish. Apple’s Pages and Google’s Google Docs, are two other widely-used examples.


    The videos in this section use Microsoft Word 2013 as a model. If you use a different word processing program (or a different version of Word), the specific tools might appear in different places, but you’ll still be able to perform the same activities.

    Getting to Know Word

    Let’s start by reviewing the program as a whole, and what it’s capable of.

    Creating and Opening Documents

    Now, let’s look at getting started with a new document file.

    Saving and Sharing

    The ever-important “Save” feature is going to be your new best friend in college.

    Text Basics

    Cutting, copying, pasting, and deleting are all reviewed here. “Find and replace” is a tool that will be handy for revising documents, especially.

    Formatting Text

    Making your document look attractive is one of the most fun parts of using a word processor. This video demonstrates quick ways to change your text’s appearance.

    Page Layout

    Your professor may have specific instructions for how she wants you to format the documents you write for her class. If that’s the case, review how to change layout and formatting settings here.



    Finally, we end with the ever-important step of getting a hard copy of your work.


    Intermediate Word Processing Skills

    Now that you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to focus on the parts of word processing that make life easier!

    Line and Paragraph Spacing

    Having trouble getting things to line up the way you want them to on the page? This video shows how to simplify the appearance of your text with a couple of clicks.

    Spell Check and Grammar Check

    Probably everyone’s favorite tool since the invention of computers is automatic spell check. Grammar check is also quite useful. Though neither tool is perfect, both will provide you a good leg up in the proofreading process.

    Headers, Footers, and Page Numbers

    Your instructor will often ask you to include page numbers on your document, along with some specific formatting procedures. MLA and APA document formats, for instance, both rely upon the use of Headers. See how to insert these easily here.

    Track Changes

    Some built-in tools allow you to add comments on a draft, which is useful for doing peer review, or making notes to yourself as you build a project. Your instructor might also add notes to your essay document when he grades it, so it’s useful to know how to turn on Track Changes so you don’t miss his input.

    Word Count

    Many writing assignments you have in college will ask for a particular word count range (such as a 500–750 word essay assignment). It’s useful to know how to easily locate the word count in a document you’ve created.


    Advanced Word Processing Skills

    Even people who have been using word processors for years often don’t know about some of the advanced tips below.

    Hanging Indents

    MLA and APA bibliography pages use a special type of indent, called a “hanging indent.” Where a normal paragraph indents the first line but not any others, a hanging indent paragraph DOESN’T indent the first line, but DOES indent all the others. Luckily, it’s very easy to have your word processor do the hard work of this type of formatting for you, as this video demonstrates.

    Bibliography Pages

    Speaking of bibliographies (or Works Cited pages, or References pages), did you know that many word processors have ways to help you create those quickly?

    Alphabetizing Bibliographies (and other Lists)

    One more bibliography tip…if you create your citation list as you use sources, you’ll need to put these in alphabetical order at the end. An easy way to do that is to use the Sort feature in your word processor. This video demonstrates that in Word 2007.

    Inserting Pictures

    Many college projects will require you to include visuals in your essays. The following video addresses how to add an image and then how to get the text around it to behave properly afterwards.

    Change Default Settings

    If the first thing you do each time you open a new document, is change your font size or style, as well as readjust your margins, then you probably will save time by changing the default settings so it starts just the way you like it.


    Free Alternatives to Word

    Word is the most common word processor, but it’s expensive, especially if it didn’t come with the computer you bought. Here are some free options to explore as an alternative.

    • Office Online. You’ll need to register with an account, but can then access your saved files from any internet-connected device.
    • OpenOffice. This is software you download on your computer, so you don’t have to be online to use it.
    • LibreOffice. Similar to OpenOffice, you download this software directly to your computer.
    • Google Drive. Connected to a Gmail / Google personal account, this flexible tool lets you access your saved files from any internet-connected device. You can also download files to work on offline, and they will automatically sync when you go online again.


    1.6: Computer-Based Writing is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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