How Word differs from WordPerfect

Article contributed by John McGhie

WordPerfect considers a document to be a type stream. If you picture WordPerfect sitting on the end of the printer cable, sending characters one-by-one, and every now and again inserting a COMMAND to change what the printer is doing, you'll get the idea. For example, WP sends the commands for Arial font and bold. It then expects the printer to print every character that way until it tells the printer to do something else.

Word, on the other hand, considers a document to be a container. Within this container are more containers and, within them, still more. Into each of these containers, Word inserts objects. The objects can be bits of text, or bits of pictures, or complete files created by other applications.

To make a document in Word, you create containers, fill them, and manipulate their properties to decide their position and appearance. For example, you create a container called a paragraph. Into it you place a string of text like this sentence. Then you apply properties to it such as, Font=Times New Roman, Size=12, Face=Bold, Language=US English, Space before=12, Line height=1, etc., etc., etc.... The properties of a container affect all the objects inside it, including other containers. For example, each character is a container that can have a font, size, and colour, but it inherits these properties from the paragraph that contains it unless you override the paragraph properties for that character.

Regrettably, long ago, Microsoft decided that this mechanism was far too complicated for us to understand, so they hid it from us. If you ever open a Word document in a hexadecimal editor and have a look, you will soon discover that they were right. A Word document internally is a maze of pointers to the various containers, which appear in the file in a sequence unrelated to the order in which they print.

I would make the following suggestions for a long and happy life with Word:


Forget reveal codes. They are not useful in Word. If you need them, click the What's This? button on the Help menu (or press Shift+F1), and then click the text you are interested in. That will show you most of the current properties. Also see: Is there life after "Reveal Codes"?


What you see on the screen is what you are going to get. If the text on the screen does not appear bold, then it does not have the bold property, regardless of what you feel it should have :)


As far as humanly possible, avoid direct formatting in Word. Word is designed to run on Styles. Learn to use them. It is so much easier to get one style correctly formatted than it is to get 174 paragraphs all looking the same. Ignore the format painter: it's a problem looking for a place to happen.


Do not accept Word the way it came out of the box. Customise the hell out of it. That's why it was designed that way. Start with the toolbars: piss off all the rubbish that comes on the standard toolbars and add your favourite styles and tools in their place, so everything you need is only one click away. Get into macros as soon as you can: there's no point in fiddling around typing things you can simply assign to a mouse-click.


Learn to use a different template for each document type. That way, you can make the template automatically set up all your styles, margins, spelling languages, etc., for the particular type of document you are making. Avoid basing documents on the Normal template. You can never control the contents of the Normal template, on your computer or on anyone else's. Documents attached to the Normal template will reformat themselves each time they are opened or passed to a different machine.


Don't be tempted to customise Word to work like WP. You can do it, but Word will fight you every inch of the way if you do, and you will have a very frustrating time of it.


Don't expect to read anything useful about Word in a paper manual. All the information is in the Help. Suffer that damned paper-clip and learn to use it: it's the fastest way to find anything. That's because there's too much information and it updates too frequently to be published on paper. I have found that anyone who has published a paper book about Word 97, for example, either hasn't understood it, or has done it at such a trivial level that it is not useful. Since I write books for a living, I can tell you that it is just not possible to describe Word in less than 1,800 pages, and it's just not possible to economically keep a book like that up-to-date.


Resign yourself to the fact that it will take six months of daily use to really tame the brute, but once you have, you won't go back.

See also:
WordPerfect to Word converters (and why none of them are perfect)
Is there life after "Reveal Codes"?