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The ABCs of Word Processing III:
Reorganizing Your Words

Word processing programs are extraordinary time savers. While youíre in the process of learning how to use such a program, you may beg to differ. You may feel that writing a letter or essay by hand is infinitely easier and faster than struggling with all the icons and views and menus.

Maybe so, but once youíre past the first stage of learning the basics of your word processor, youíll find almost every aspect of creating a written document is much, much speedier and more efficient using a word processor.

Writing the old way

Take essay writing. If youíve ever had to write a long essay by hand or with a typewriter, youíll be familiar with the process. It goes something like this:

Does that sound at all familiar? I can still remember the ache in my hand from going through this process on a 10,000 word essay.

Writing the new way

A word processor eliminates almost all the hard work in this process, leaving you to concentrate on the important part: getting your ideas across clearly. With a word processor the process goes like this:

Instead of writing three (or more) drafts, youíve written one and then tinkered with it to your heartís content. Right up to the last instant before you print it, you can make small or large changes with little effort.

The key to it all is the in-built editing features of your word processor.

Selecting text

In the previous article in this series, you learned the basic steps involved in word-by-word editing: how to move around your document, change a word here and there, select words, sentences and paragraphs.

Thereís more to editing than changing an occasional word, of course. In the essay example above, much of the editing process involved restructuring the essay, moving whole paragraphs, and inserting large chunks of text. All this is painstaking by hand or using a typewriter but beautifully simple using any word processor.

Familiarising yourself

Becoming familiar with selecting text is crucial to making any changes to your document, whether those changes are editing or formatting (changing the look of the document): first you select the text, then you replace it, cut it, copy it, move it, delete it, or change its appearance.

You learned the basics of selection in the last article: you click and drag across text to select any amount of text, from a letter to a whole document; double-click a word to select it. Each word processing program has additional shortcuts for selecting anything from a sentence to a paragraph to an entire document.

The case of the disappearing text

One of the most important things to remember is that if you have text selected in your document, typing anything on the keyboard will replace the selected text. This is one of the traps that catches beginners all the time.

For instance, say you select the first paragraph in your document, planning to move it down below the second paragraph. Before you get a chance to do that, you accidentally tap the Spacebar. Your first paragraph will disappear in a flash, replaced by a single space. Itís no big deal as long as you keep your wits about you: just click the Undo icon or choose Undo from the menu. Watch out for this Ė itís easy to select some text and then type something without realising youíre replacing existing text.

Why does selection work like this? So itís easy to change text to something else. Often, youíll want to replace a word or phrase: all you need to do is select the phrase and type your replacement text, a nice quick two-step process.

Watch for the highlights

This works in any Windows application and in Windows dialog boxes as well, so take notice of it. If you have a dialog box in front of you, notice if any text is selected (highlighted). If it is, thereís no need to hit Delete or Backspace to get rid of it, just go ahead and type.

Equally important, if you donít want to replace the selected text you need to click somewhere in the document or dialog box to deselect the text. (Clicking in a blank space on your page is a useful trick not only for deselecting text but also for closing a menu youíve accidentally opened.)

The Clipboard

A lot of the changes youíll make to documents will involve deleting, copying and moving text. Windows makes this process easy by providing a feature called the Clipboard. The Clipboard is a space in your computerís memory for storing data (slabs of text, spreadsheet figures, graphics) temporarily.

Try this:

  1. Open a document.
  1. Write three or four sentences.
  1. Highlight the first sentence and choose Cut from the Edit menu (or click the Cut icon in your word processorís toolbar).

The sentence will disappear from your document.

  1. Now, click immediately before the third sentence to position the insertion point there and select Paste from the Edit menu, or click the Paste icon on the toolbar.

The sentence you deleted will reappear at your insertion point, moving the third sentence over to make room. Check that thereís still a space between the sentence you inserted and the third sentence: you may need to insert a space manually, although some advanced word processors are smart enough to do this for you.

This is the usual process for moving text in a document. You:

  1. Select the text
  2. Cut it
  3. Move the insertion point to the new position.
  4. Paste the text.

If you want to copy a piece of text instead of moving it, use Copy and Paste instead of Cut and Paste.

Whereíd the text go?

The text you cut is placed on the Clipboard, available to be pasted anywhere in your current document, another document or even in another program altogether. The Clipboard holds one item at a time: anything you cut or copy to the Clipboard will remain there until you cut or copy something else. This means you can Cut an item to the Clipboard and then Paste it multiple times.

Remember, you have to use the Cut or Copy commands to place text on the Clipboard. If you highlight some text and press Delete or Backspace to delete it, the text will not be placed on the Clipboard, it will simply disappear.

Moving and copying text

You can probably see how useful Cut, Copy and Paste can be in restructuring a document. These commands are also terrific for moving or copying information between documents. Because Windows supplies a single Clipboard for all the applications you run, anything you copy to the Clipboard from one program will be available to any other Windows program. So, for example, one way to place a graphic in your word processing document is to:

  1. Open a graphics program and create a graphic.
  1. Select the graphic and Copy it to the Clipboard.
  1. Open your word processing program, position the insertion point and click the Paste button.

Similarly, you can copy text from one document to another by opening the first document, selecting the text, clicking the Copy button, opening the second document, positioning the insertion point and clicking Paste.

Dragging and dropping

Cut, Copy and Paste are great techniques to master because they are universal. Once you learn these techniques, you can use them in any Windows program worth its salt.

If you want to be more efficient, most new word processors offer an even simpler technique for moving of copying text within a document: drag and drop. With drag and drop you donít need to use the Clipboard. Instead, you:

  1. Select the text you want to move.
  1. Position your cursor so itís within the selected text. The cursor will change shape Ė to an arrow-head pointing towards the left margin in Microsoft word processors (in Microsoft Works youíll see the word Ďdragí beneath the cursor), to a little hand in Lotus programs, and so on.
  1. Hold down the mouse button and drag the text to its new position, then release the mouse button.

Simple, huh?

If you want to copy the text rather than move it, hold down the Ctrl key while you click and drag the text.

Dragging between applications

In Windows 95 word processors, this process of drag and drop even works between applications.

For instance, you can open up your word processor and, say, your e-mail editor, right-click in a vacant space on the Windows 95 Taskbar and choose Tile Vertically or Tile Horizontally to position both windows side by side, and then click and drag selected text (or Ctrl-click and drag it to copy it) from one window to another.

Coming up

By now, you should have all the basics of editing documents under your belt. You should be able to:

The next step is to make your words look good. This involves using the formatting tools of your word processor: setting tabs and margins, changing the style and look of the typeface you use, positioning text on the page. Thatís what weíll do in the next article in this series.

In the meantime, remember to watch what youíre doing, practice new techniques on non-urgent documents, and save your work often.

Straight on to Part IV: Formatting documents

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