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Word Processing Introduction

By Alan Zisman © 1999

Note (June 2006):  This tutorial was created in 1999 using the then-current Microsoft Works version 4.5; users of later MS Works versions will find minor differences in the illustrations and instructions. Moreover, I can no longer in good conscience recommend that anyone use Microsoft Works.

The Works word processor module is at best a weak imitation of Microsoft Word, and Microsoft has shown no interest in updating it since version 4.x which was initially released in 1995- despite new releases having much later version numbers, there have really been no changes or improvements of substance since that time. 

If you are using Microsoft Works word processor, my recommendation:

1) Open any important word processing documents that you've made using MS Works, use the File/Save As menu, and save in Word (*.DOC) format or Rich Text (*.RTF).

2) Download and install the free, open source office suite -- it include a spreadsheet compatible with Excel spreadsheets (along with a good, MS Word compatible word processor, and a good MS PowerPoint-compatible presentation program). LibreOffice may be able to open your MS Works word processor files even if you haven't saved them in *.DOC or *.RTF format.

3) You may want to set LibreOffice to save in Word format by default, making it easier to share your spreadsheets with other people. (I have a tutorial on configuring LibreOffice/ at:

Nevertheless, the content of this tutorial may prove useful as an introduction to word processors in general, whether you are using Microsoft Works, AppleWorks, Excel,, or whatever.

Perhaps the best way to learn any new program is to explore its options-- open all its menus, click on the Toolbar items, and poke around. That’s how we’re going get started with the Works Word Processor-- starting with the File menu.

All word processors do much the same things (Spreadsheets and documents are helpful whether you are in strategic public relations or studying for your masters in public administration.) While we're using Microsoft Works 4.5 for illustration purposes, other word processors-- for Windows, Mac, Linux, etc, will do similar things in similar ways. Don't worry if the details of your word processor are somewhat different-- the key is to feel free to explore and try things out. Just remember to save your work regularly and not too much can go wrong!

File Menu

-- New (Ctrl +N) lets you start a new word processor, spreadsheet, or database file. You can have up to eight files open at once-- which is handy for copying and pasting between them, or referring to one while working on another.
If you click on the Task Wizard tab, you can start with a pre-made Wizard or customized Template (for a résumé, letterhead, etc).

-- Open (Ctrl +O) lets you open an existing document. It opens to the drive and folder set as the default in the shortcut.

File Open dialogue

To change to a different drive or folder, click on the triangle next to the box labelled Look In: . TheNew folder buttonbutton lets you create a new folder... very handy! The next two buttons show the contents either as a simple list or with details (file size, modification date, etc). The Move up a level button moves you up one level in the folder-tree... also very handy.

The File of Type field, near the bottom is very useful, if you want to use Works to open, say, a Word Perfect or a Microsoft Word document (but it doesn’t support the newest Word 97/2000 document type unless you also have Word 97 installed). If you can’t find your file, choose All Files (*.*).

(Microsoft released an add-on for Works 4.x that allows it to open and save in MS Word 97/2000/XP format. Get it at:

Similarly, there's an add-on allowing it to work with Works 2000 word processor files, available at: )

Many students get confused with when to use File/Open and File/Save... if they choose Save instead of Open, and then click on their saved file’s name, they replace their saved work with a blank document! Very bad news!!!

Sometimes students’ folders seem vanish-- kids with shaky hands can easily move a folder inside someone else’s! Use Windows Explorer to check inside nearby folders-- you’ll eventually find the missing one, and move it back.

-- Close closes a single document, but not the program.

-- Save/Save As (Ctrl +U). The first time you save, these two menus give you the same thing... a dialogue box almost identical to the Open one... after that, clicking on Save no longer gives you a dialogue box-- it just saves, with the same options already chosen. Save As, however, always shows the dialogue box... handy if you want to save under a new name or in a different location-- a quick and dirty way to copy a file, or to create a backup version.

Some Save tricks:

-- be aware of the File of Type option... it lets you save in Microsoft Word or Word Perfect format to work on your document on another computer (at home, for instance), if you don’t have Works available. File type text is a lowest common denominator-- every computer can read it, but font and formatting information is lost.RTF (Rich Text Format) is almost as universal, and includes fonts, graphics, etc.

-- File Names can be up to 255 characters long in Works 4, and can includes spaces-- but not a fewcharacters such as question marks or colons that have special meanings to the operating system. If you are using Works 2 or 3, you are limited to 8-character file names. In either case, do not end your file names with a period, or add a customized three letter extension-- either will confuse Windows when you try to open your file again.

-- The Template button lets you save a document that you will often re-use, with changes... customized letterhead, report card form, etc. When you save a template, you open it by using the File/New/TaskWizardsitem, and scroll down the list to User Defined Templates:

Works 4.5 Task Launcher dialogue

-- Page Setup lets you set the margins (note-- in the units you set in the Options). The Source, Size, and Orientationlets you set the paper size and whether you want your document to be vertical (portrait) or horizontal (landscape).You may need to set your printer to match these settings.

Also look at the Other Options for a few extra tricks.

Note: In earlier versions of Works, you set double-spacing in this menu.

-- Print Preview shows you a minature view of how your document will look when it’s printed. You’ll save lots of paper if you routinely use this before printing!

-- Print (Ctrl +P) lets you control pages printed, number of copies, target printer, etc. If you have multiple printers, choose the target printer using the drop-down triangle next to the Printers box. (You set the default) printer with the Start Menu’s Settings/Printers item-- right-click on the desired printer, and choose Set as Default.

To print just page 3, you need to set it to print from Page 3 to Page 3.

Print dialogue

-- Exit Works (Alt +F4) closes the program. You will be prompted to save any unsaved work.

-- On the bottom of the File menu, you’ll see the last four documents opened... this is handy way to quickly get back to your most recent work. 

Edit Menu

These items are very useful. Be sure to memorize the keyboard shortcuts!
Most of the Edit Menu items involve working withselections-- telling the computer that you want to do something to part of your document. To select some text, you can do one of the following techniques:

1) Click at the beginning of the desired selection, hold the left mouse button down, and drag over what you want to select. It can often be hard to be precise this way. Alternatively:

2) Click at the beginning, hold the shift key down, and click at the end of the desired selection. Or:

3) Click at the beginning, hold the shift-key while using some combination of the arrow keys (left, right, up, or down), Page Up, Page Down, Home, End, Ctrl+Home, or Ctrl+End to extend the selection.

Selection is also useful with the Format menu items.

Here’s the contents of the Edit menu:

-- Undo Editing (Ctrl +Z) can be a lifesaver-- if you try it immediately when you make a mistake. If it (and any menu) is greyed-outit is unavailable at this time.

-- Cut (Ctrl +X) and Copy (Ctrl +C) are only available if something is selected. If so, they both copy the selection into the Clipboard for use later. (The Clipboard is a metaphor-- not a real, physical part of the computer. It means the selected item is being stored in memory. The Clipboard only holds one thing at a time... when you Cut/Copy something else, the previous contents disappear).

When you Cut a selection, it vanishes from the page... when you Copy it, it remains on the page.

-- Paste (Ctrl + V) places whatever is in the Clipboard where ever the cursor is. Note that when you paste, the selection is not removed from the Clipboard... you can paste the same item multiple times.

-- Paste Special  is a techie option that you’ll never use. Trust me.

-- Clear (Del) erases a selection, without sending it to the Clipboard.

-- Select All (Ctrl +A) selects the whole document... useful for making global changes like changing the font and size, or double-spacing everything.

-- Find (Ctrl + F) lets you search a document for desired text... similar but probably more useful is the next item:

-- Replace (Ctrl +U -- they ran out of letters? Why not Ctrl + R?) lets you find text and automatically (or manually) replace it with something different: Pete with Mary, for example.

Replace dialogue

The Find Next option moves to the next instance of the Find text, giving you the choice to replace it or not... Replace All automatically replaces all instances, and reports on the number replaced.

Note that if some text is selected, this only searches in the selection-- the #1 reason why this might not work as expected.

The two buttons in the centre let you add a Tab and a new Paragraph to the desired text to search or replace.

Note the two options:

[x] Find Whole Words Only, if selected, would replace ‘Pete’ but not ‘Peter’... if that was not selected, PeterMaryr, probably not what you intended. would become

[x] Match Case, if selected, would only replace the word if capitalization is exactly what you typed in the Find Whatbox... i.e. ‘pete’ would not be replaced.

-- Go to (Ctrl+G) is only useful if you’ve created Bookmarks (see below)... if so, it lets you jump to a bookmark. Useful it you’re creating long documents... like chapters in a book.

-- Easy Text lets you save and insert something you’re often going to use... your return address, for example. To create Easy Text, highlight desired text, and choose this menu item. Choose New, and type a name for it. (You apply Easy Text from the Insert menu)

-- Bookmark lets you add or delete bookmarks, to use with the Go to menu. (I made bookmarks for the sections in this document).

-- Links and Object are two other menus you’ll never use. They’re greyed out most of the time. 

View Menu

A bunch of options about what you see on screen... note that these don’t change the actual contents-- just how they’ll be showed to you.
-- Normal shows text and graphics, but not margins, headers, or footers... it you find that can’t see all the way across the page, try changing to this view. It’s also faster on an older computer.

-- Page Layout shows more like what your page will look like when printed... You have to choose one or the other of those views.

-- Toolbar... click on this if the toolbar has disappeared!

-- Ruler to display a ruler on the top, in the units set in the Options.

-- All Characters shows the hidden characters-- spaces, Enter, tabs, paragraph, etc... if your screen looks like it’s got a bunch of wierd stuff on it, try turning this option off. (But DOS Word Perfect users will find it similar to that program’s Reveal Codesoption, and may like it).

-- Header and Footer jump you to the top or bottom of the page (respectively). Headers and Footers are for text that you want to appear on every page-- titles, page numbers, date, etc. In normalview, these are shown as a single line labelled H or F at the beginning of the document. In Page Layout view, these are shown as approx 1 cm. wide areas at the top (or bottom) of every page. Don’t try to type the main body of your text in these areas!

The tab key moves you from the left, to the centre, to the right of the Header/Footer area, so you can have three items in each. You set the font/size separately from the main text. You can use the Insert menu items to insert (for example), page numbers, or date into the Header or Footer. So to have a Footer that reads “Page 23” (or whatever the correct number is), go to the Footer and type the wordPagefollowed by a space, then click on the Insert menu, and choose Page Number. Your Footer will read ‘Page *page*’, but when you print (or print preview), the correct page number will appear.

If you want Headers/Footers on all pages except the first (for a title page, for example), go to File/Page Setup/Other Options.

Get in the habit of using Headers and Footers-- they will make your work look much more professional!

-- Footnotes shows you the footnotes that you created with the Insert/Footnote menu item... these are at the bottom of the page unless you chose to put them at the end, using File/Page Setup/Other Options.

-- Zoom changes the size your page is displayed at... not the size it will print at. Useful if you need to get up close, or if you can’t see a full page-width on screen at once.

Insert Menu

These items add something special where the cursor is...
-- Page Break (Ctrl + Enter) starts a new page. Handy if you want to have each section start on its own page, or to change the automatical pagination-- In normal view, you’ll see a dotted line across the page wherever you’ve inserted a page break-- to remove one, click on the dotted line, and press Delete.

-- Page Number: see the discussion of Headers/Footers

-- Document Name inserts the saved filename, but shows up as ‘*filename*’ until you print. (Should you care?)

-- Date and Time gives you a choice of different formats (some showing only the date or the time, some showing both). There’s an option that will automatically update it whenever you print the document. Nice for Footers, or letterhead templates.

-- Special Characters doesn’t let you insert all those hard-to-type French characters (etc), and is limited to specialized hyphens and spaces (i.e. if you want a phrase (‘Girl Guide’) to be treated as a single word, and not broken over two lines, insert anon-breaking space between the two words.

-- Database Field is very useful for form letters, etc... we’ll look at this in detail in the Database workshop. Stay tuned!

-- Easy Text lets you save and insert something you’re often going to use... your return address, for example. Save Easy Text with the Edit menu item, inserting it from this menu item.

-- Footnote lets you insert a footnote (duh!) either at the bottom of a page or at the end of the document (if chosen in Page Setup). It automatically adds the proper number as a superscript in the body of your document... and if you add or delete a footnote, it automatically resets the number.

-- Tables are useful not only for traditional rows and columns of text or numbers, but also if you want a more complex page layout than Works will normally give you-- for instance, if you want three columns of text in part of your document, make a table with three columns and one row, and type away. (Remember-- columns go up and down, rows go across!)

You have the option to pick one of a bunch of colour schemes for your table.

Unfortunately, you can’t insert clipart into a table, making it less useful for fancy layout.

To change the number of rows/columns in a table, right-click on it, and make your choice from the popup menu.

If you want more power-- for instance, to alphabetize data in a table, use a spreadsheet, then copy and paste into your word processor.

To remove a table, click after it and press Backspace.

-- Chart/Spreadsheet gives you the option to choose from an existing file or to create a new one... you can also simply Copy/Paste from your spreadsheet.

-- Clipart opens the Clipart Gallery, showing thumbnails of a bunch of pictures, sorted by category. When you pick one, it appears much larger and clearer than the thumbnail picture.

Note that there are lots of extra clipart available from (or clicking on the globe icon on the Clip Gallery page).

-- WordArt lets you perform fancy effects on words/letters... upside down writing, words on an angle or a curve, etc. You get a box to type the desired text, and a new toolbar with various special effects. Play around with it!

-- NoteIt (may not be installed), adds a post-it-note to your document. You might use this to make comments on a student’s work.

-- Drawing (may not be installed) opens Microsoft Draw-- a vector drawing program. These sorts of graphics programs work differently from more common paint programs, and may be harder to get used to-- but a better for drawing with smooth lines... they don’t get blocky when printed or enlarged.

-- Object lets you insert any other type of saved work... a KidsPix picture, for instance (though you could also Copy/Paste from the other program).

Format Menu

If you choose items in this menu when text is selected, it only applies to the selection... a way to change what you’ve written. If nothing is selected, the formatting applies to new text typed after the cursor.
-- Font and Style lets you change font, size, style, and colour of text.

Format Font dialogue

Note that font size is measured in points: 72 to an inch. But because it measures from the lowest part on a ‘y’ to the highest part of the tallest capital letter, two fonts at the same point size may not look the same height.

Superscript is like in math exponents: X2. Subscript is like in chemical equations: H20. If you click the Set Default button, those settings will be used as default in future word processor documents... which can be an unpleasant surprise-- I had a bunch of computers that accidentally got set to start up in blood red Postcrypt characters-- a font where letters look like they’re dripping blood. Nice at Hallowee’en, less so at Christmas.

-- Paragraph lets you set default alignment (more easily set from the Toolbar), and indentation. The SpacingLine Spacingselection. page lets you set double/single spacing... to double space, type ‘2’ in the space, for example.

-- Tabs lets you customize the tab stops. Leaders are characters that appear when you press tab........... for example.

-- Borders and Shading lets you add a border around a selection, or change the colour of the paper within a selection. Borders created on the Border page sometimes have a bad habit of extending over two pages if your text moves...On the Shading tab, you can set a shading pattern for the background. Note that the foreground  and Page tab lets you create a border for an entire page... nice for title pages.

v--Bullets are small graphics used at the beginning of list items. You can choose from a wide variety of characters.

Format bullets dialogue

Once you start making a bulleted list, you need to open this menu item and click the Remove button to stop! (Or click on the Bullets toolbar icon).

-- Columns lets you create a document with multiple columns, optionally with a line dividing the columns:

Format columns dialogue

As it notes, the columns formats applies to the entire document. If you don’t want this you have a couple of workarounds:

-- If you want a headline running across a multi-columned page, use the Header for this.

-- If you want multiple columns in only a small part of a document, fake it with a table.

-- If you want different pages with different columns set-ups, save each as a separate document.

-- If you want much more flexibility, use a page-layout program like Microsoft Publisher or Adobe PageMaker, or a more powerful word processor like MS Word or Corel Word Perfect.

Note that columns in Works (and Word) don’t let you easily fill, for example, the top 1/2 of each column.... text runs down the first column, then starts to run down the second. For newspaper-like columns, you should use a page-layout program such as Microsoft Publisher.

-- Easy Formats gives instant, pre-set formatting to a selection... Headings, etc. This is called Stylesin some other programs, and they can be customized. Very powerful, unfortunately, too rarely used way to produce professional-looking, consistent documents. Very good if producing something like a class newspaper.

-- Text Wrap/Picture These only apply if you have inserted clipart or a graphic, and have selected the picture. Absolutetext wrap lets you position multiple lines of text around a picture, Inline text wrap lets you only have a single line of text beside your graphic (lined up with the bottom).

Format picture dialogue

The Picture item lets you set the exact size of your graphic-- either in units or as a percentage of the original. (Note that you can manually resize a graphic by selecting it, then stretching or shrinking by pulling on the ‘handles’ -- the little squares in the corners. Holding shift down while you do this resizes it proportionally, so you don’t get skinny or far pictures).


Tools Menu

-- Address Book-- only works if you’ve created one with the Database.
-- Dial This Number-- you need a modem for this.

-- Spelling (F7) spell checks a selection, or the entire document. Of course, it doesn’t recognize incorrect homonyms: “Eye right reel good, write?”

Spell check dialogue

Note the Change All or Ignore All buttons... very handy since students often make the same mistake many times.

You may want to use the Add button to add your name and address to the Custom dictionary, so they don’t always come up as mistakes. Get students into the habit of using the spell check, but to use it critically... in some cases, none of the suggestions will be correct, if the spelling is too far off. As well, some students start pressing the Ignore button for all their mistakes... or even worse, press the Add button, which adds their mistakes to the dictionary.

(This can be repaired with the Edit Custom Dictionaryoption. Or delete the C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Proof\Custom.dic file and start all over again... this might be faster if you have to redo a bunch of computers!)

New generation word processors, including Microsoft Word 95 and later, Word Perfect, and MS Works 2000 and later include an option to check spelling in real time- indicating miss-spelled words with a coloured underline. Right-click on the underlined word and a list of alternatives will pop up, along with an option to ignore the spelling.

-- Thesaurus gives synonyms for the word where the cursor is. Double click on related words  in the Meanings box to get more meanings, with synonyms for each. Like paper thesauri (?), students often have difficulty using this, as they tend to be unaware of the nuance of words.

-- Hyphenation only works for a selected word... showing where the word can be hyphenated.

-- Word Count counts the words in the entire document or a selection.

-- Lookup Reference is only available if another Microsoft product (Encarta, Bookshelf, etc) is installed... in which case, it will look up a selected word.

-- Envelopes/Labels/Form Letters open wizards that walk you through the steps for creating these special projects.

-- Paginate Now makes sure that  the program hasn’t gotten confused as you move text around.

-- Customize Toolbar lets you drag icons on or off the toolbar. I threw away the Printer icon, since too often students clicked it multiple times, while waiting for their page to print-- the File/Print option requires more thought.

-- Options: a bunch of ways to setup the program. Some things you might want to know:

-- Editing: Smart Quotes  are those “curly” ones, rather than the ugly

' and " characters that are properly used as abbreviations for feet and inches.

When Overtype is turned on, if your cursor is in the middle of a word and you type, it replaces the next characters... if it’s off, it inserts letters in the middle of the word. If this is happening the way you don’t want, you can press the Insert key to switch its behaviour. This is sometimes referred to as Insert/Overtype mode (and if you press Insert, you’ll see letters OVR appear or disapppear in the lower-right corner of the window).

When Typing Replaces Selection is on (the default), if you select something, and type, it replaces the selection (duh)... this can cause problems-- imagine selecting the entire document, then pressing Enter... the invisible Enter character replaces Everything!!!(Click on Undo I to get it back).

-- General [x] Enable Drag and Drop Editing (the default), lets you move text by selecting it, then pulling it with the mouse to a new location. If this causes problems, turn it off!

-- Proofing Tools: You may be able to choose between American and British spell checks... but no Canadian. It’s your call!

Window Menu

When you have multiple programs open, you can switch between them using the Windows Taskbar, at the bottom of the screen, or by pressing Alt+Tab, and repeatedly clicking Tab until the desired program’s icon and name are selected.
When you have multiple documents open (remember, Works 4.x will let you have up to eight), they don’t show up on the Taskbar (the new Office 2000  and Works 2000 or later do this)... so there’s no easy way to switch between them the way you can switch between different programs. That’s the purpose of the Window Menu.

It will list all open documents-- click on the name of one, to bring it to the front of the screen.

Or choose Cascade, or Tile for different arrangements showing part of each on-screen-- in which case you can drag the document’s border to resize it, to get your preferred arrangement.

The Split menu item lets you split a single document, so you can view two parts of it at once, with an independent scroll bar on the right of each. You can do the same using the little teeny rectangle at the very top of the vertical scroll bar-- pull it down, to get two windows on the same document... when you’re done, pull it back up to the top.

Split the page


The Toolbar is across the top, under the Menu bar... if it isn’t visible, click on View/Toolbar.
You can customize which commands are shown, using the Tools/Customize Toolbar command, dragging icons from the dialogue box to the Toolbar (or vice versa). To see what command an icon in the dialogue box represents, click on it. For instance, I added single-space and double-space icons.

Customize toolbar dialogue

When [x] Enable ToolTips is selected, letting your mouse point to a Toolbar icon will bring up a brief description.

Some other tricks:

-- When you click on the font list, you get a listing of the fonts, showing what the font looks like (very cool!), But if you have a long list, it may take a while to scroll to the one you want. If you know the name, you can jump to it much quicker-- type the first letters of the name, and it will jump to the closest match.

-- The filesize list only goes to 48 pts... but you can type in larger sizes-- up to 127 pts. Or type in-between sizes (like the very useful 11 pts).

-- There are keyboard formatting shortcuts that may be even more convenient then the Toolbar items:

                Ctrl+B                     Bold        on/off

                Ctrl+I                      Italic on/off

                Ctrl+U                    Underline on/off

More Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts can be significantly more efficient than mousing around-- especially if you’re a reasonably efficient typist.
Many of them are shown next to the equivalent menu command (and have been mentioned in discussion of those menu items). Others are useful for quick cursor movements:

Home                    go to the beginning of the line

End                       go to the end of the line

PgUp                    scroll up one screenful

PgDown                scroll down one screenful

Ctrl+Home           go the beginning of the document

Ctrl+End              go to the end of the document

Holding Shift while pressing any of those keys selects from the current cursor location, to wherever the key combination goes... i.e. Shift+Ctrl+End selects everything to the end of the document.

Character Map

Not a Works accessory, but a very handy Windows accessory. CharMap lets you see all 128 characters in each font-- including the many not easily accessible from the keyboard... foreign language and math characters, special symbols, and more.
It maybe already installed, in the Start Menu’sPrograms/Accessories menu, but it isn’t part of the default Windows installation. To add it, open Control Panel, open the Add/Remove Programsitem, and go to the Windows Setup tab.

Double-click on Accessories... if there is a checkmark next to [x] Character Map, then it’s already installed. If not, check that option to install it. Click OK a couple of times.

Add Accessories dialogue

To use the Character Map, open the program (Start Menu/Programs/Accessories/Character Map-- in some Windows versions, it's in the Accessories/System Tools submenu):

Character Map

Notice that you can choose a font, and it shows all the characters... clicking on a character enlarges it. In the lower right-hand corner, you can see the keystroke that produces that character-- in this case, Alt+0175 to get that star in the Wingdings font.... Note that Wingdings lets you use pictoral characters; using Charmap with text fonts like Arial or Times New Roman will let you access foreign language characters-- accented vowels, for example.

Alternatively, you can click theSelect button to copy that character-- you can select multiple characters to copy in one bunch... but in order to properly paste them into your document, make sure you change to that font... otherwise, they won’t come out as you expect. 

New!  An enhanced, free replacement for Charmap: Characteristica. Worth checking out if you frequently need to access accented or other extended characters in a font.

Introduction to MS Works series

© 1999, 2002 by Alan Zisman