What Is the Purpose of a Word Processor?

by David Nield

The word processor was one of the first applications to appear on early PCs, displaying words as they were tapped out on the keyboard. Today's word processors are far more advanced and stylish, but the underlying principle remains the same: These applications are used to input and output large amounts of text, with some processing and editing along the way, if required.

Key Purposes

The central purpose of a word processor, as the name suggests, is to process words. Text is typically entered via a keyboard or dictation program, and the word processor handles formatting and pagination. Most word processors offer tools for changing the font size and style, for creating headings and sub-headings, for adjusting the text alignment and for controlling how the document appears on screen and on the printed page. You will usually find a word count tool included to tally the number of words, characters and other variables entered into the program.

Other Features

More advanced word processors include additional features, such as the ability to insert images into a document. Tables and columns can be used in some programs to take more control over the layout of the text on the page. Support for headers, footers, document bookmarks, a table of contents and footnotes may also be available. Many word processors include a stylesheet feature, enabling you to standardize text formatting across a lengthy document.

Examples of Use

Word processors can be used to produce any document containing text and (in most programs) a selection of images. They are suitable for writing novels, reports, user manuals, letters and to-do lists. They are less suitable for documents requiring more advanced layouts or interactive elements, and while some word processors include an HTML export option they are not ideal for producing Web pages to any advanced standard.

Word Processor Programs

WordPad is a basic word processor included with Microsoft Windows, while the industry standard Microsoft Word is available as part of the Microsoft Office Suite. Alternative freeware office suites include LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice. A number of online browser-based word processors are available as well, including Google Document, the word processor offered as part of Google Drive. Desktop publishing (DTP) applications offer more flexibility in terms of layouts, and are more suitable for working with newsletters, magazines, flyers, posters and other similar documents beyond the reach of the standard word processor.

About the Author

An information technology journalist since 2002, David Nield writes about the Web, technology, hardware and software. He is an experienced editor, proofreader and copywriter for online publications such as CNET, TechRadar and Gizmodo. Nield holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and lives in Manchester, England.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images