Do You Really Need a Word Processor?

By Phil Davis


After reading email and surfing the web, one of the more common tasks that we use our computers for is to write stuff. And when we do, we usually open a word processing program without giving it a second thought.

The question that you should ask yourself is “Do I really need a word processor for this writing project?” Certainly, if you are writing a novel or your resume where you want all the fancy formatting options that your word processor offers. But just to dump a few lines of text on a page? Come on!

Rule #1: Use the right tool for the right job.

Typically, most of us (including me) automatically open a word processing program without thinking about whether it is the best tool for the job. Often it isn’t. We don’t need all the toolbars, special commands, massive formatting options, and all the other overhead associated with this type of tool. In fact, many times the options slow us down and get in the way of our creativity.

Over the past several years, I have been doing a lot of my writing, including writing for the web, using a variety of simple text editors. These allow me to focus on the content and not get bogged down messing with formatting and making it “look pretty” until I’m finished writing.

When I do need to create a document that has lots of formatting, embedded images, tables, and other fancy things, I turn to Pages or LibreOffice rather than the ubiquitous MS Word. LibreOffice is easy to use, loads much faster than MS Word, and is compatible w/ MS Word file formats. Plus, it is free. Pages is also free and is great for jobs that require graphics and sophisticated page layouts. Do you really want to pay $10 a month forever for the latest version of MS Office when there are better options?

Rule #1 revised: Use the right tool for the “write”” job.

If you decide to try something new and simplify your life (always a good thing), take a look at some of the alternatives.

Start with TextEdit built into every Mac. TextEdit can probably satisfy most of your simpler writing needs without getting in your way. But there are others that you might want to try. Several that I use on a regular basis include BywordTextWrangler, and FoldingText. These are just a few of the excellent editors, many of which have both Mac and iDevice versions. Brett Terpstra has compiled a massive list of iDevice editors if you are interested.

If you want to get adventurous, you might take a look at a formatting language called Markdown. Markdown lets you write in plain text, but then use simple symbols to add the most common formatting — bold, italic, paragraph headers, etc. I’m using Markdown to write this article. Once it’s finished I can save in a variety of “fancy” formats, but the raw material is just plain old ASCII text that can be opened in any editor on any kind of computer.

Finally, if you really must have a word processor for the job and you don’t like MS Word, Pages, or LibreOffice, take a look at an interesting one that many professional writers use — Nisus Writer. Nisus Writer is very powerful and it saves files in the RTFD format which can be read by most text editors on any computer. Not a bad feature to have if you want to avoid problems with proprietary formats being changed in the future.

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