Differences Between Spreadsheets & Word Processing

By David Nield

Many office software suites include spreadsheet and word processor components.
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Spreadsheets and word processors were two of the earliest computer programs, but they vary significantly in terms of their design and purpose. A spreadsheet application is geared towards number crunching and data analysis; a word processor is primarily concerned with text and how this text appears on the page.

The Purpose of Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are designed to automate the management of large amounts of numerical data and to apply calculations as required. They are used for everything from account and sales reports to sports leagues. The strength of a spreadsheet application lies in the ease with which it can hold and manage rows and columns of figures, and the speed with which it can calculate formulas, produce charts, and filter out particular values.

Spreadsheet Program Features

Spreadsheet programs are built around a grid of cells that typically hold numerical data but which can also contain text, dates, and other content. Most spreadsheet applications integrate tools for filtering and sorting data, applying calculations to groups of cells, and producing charts of the results. Formatting options are usually limited but enable header rows and columns to be picked out and otherwise make the spreadsheet easier to navigate. Other options include the ability to format numerical data as currency, fractions, and percentages.

The Purpose of Word Processors

As the name suggests, word processors are designed to process large amounts of text and can be used for writing letters, novels, reports, or articles. They are not designed to work with figures or advanced layouts to any great degree, though a word processor will include options for controlling text alignment and page margins. A word processor is to text what a spreadsheet program is to numbers: a dedicated tool designed to make entering, editing, and exporting text content as straightforward as possible.

Word Processor Program Features

Most word processors come with a selection of text formatting tools, enabling users to pick out headings and sub-headings and take full control over font size, style, and typeface. Advanced word processors support importing images and tables, though they don't reach the level of desktop publishing (DTP) packages in terms of layout flexibility. Tools of benefit to writers, including word count and header and footer capabilities, are usually included.