LibreOffice Writer Overview

LibreOffice Writer is the word processing component of LibreOffice. It has all of the features you would expect from a full-featured word processor, and is probably more powerful than you expect. But that power is only potential power. Until you put it to use properly it has very little power. That is what we are going to work on in this series, using it properly.

I have seen word processing software referred to as the most misused software in general use, though there is some debate as to whether spreadsheets or presentation software might be even more deserving. But in any case, all of these are software that is misused frequently, or even most of the time. And the reason is that people never learn how to approach the software properly. I can tell within seconds whether someone knows what they are doing with word processing by observing what things they do when they open the program. If they start off by selecting fonts, sizes, alignments, and so on, I know it is someone who is a  complete newb. On the other hand, if they turn on non-printing characters like paragraph marks and tab marks, I know I am in the presence of a sensei.

The objective of this series is to make you too a sensei.

So what are the key concepts we need to understand to achieve this lofty goal? They are not all that many, really, but the first point is to understand that typing is not word processing. Yet most people use word processing software like it is typing, only with slightly better way of correcting mistakes. (I remember lift-off tape on my IBM Selectric. Never again) Let’s go back to our scenario above where I distinguish between the newb and the sensei. Picture this: you open LibreOffice Writer, and are presented with a blank screen representing a blank sheet of paper. What do you do next? Well, maybe that depends on what kind of document you want to create. If it is a letter, maybe you go to select the Flush Right button to put your cursor on the right of the document, type out a date, then hit Enter. Then you need to click on the Flush Left button to get the cursor back the normal left side of the document so you can type Dear So-and-so…

And this is what makes you a newbie.

The sensei stops to think before typing. Do not all letters have these characteristics in common? Do they not all share this common nature? Does not the act of starting from scratch on each letter make no sense at all? The answer to all of these questions is “Yes.” And if that is the case, why are you not using the power given to you by this thing we call a computer and automating what you are doing? I always think that intelligent laziness is the most noble of human inactions.

Of course, part of the problem is that even though we all use computers every day, we forget just what they are capable of doing. I recall many years ago teaching a class in applied statistics, and the class was taught in the computer lab so that the students could run their functions and see the results in real time. In one particular assignment they were to do a test on the result, and I gave them a formula to calculate the test statistic. One student reached into a backpack to pull out a calculator, so I went up to him and asked him what he was doing. “Doing the calculation, Professor.” So I asked him what that big box in front of him was, and he answered “A computer, Professor.” So far so good. So then I asked him “Why do you think it is called a computer.” Eventually the light dawned, and he realized that by its very nature any computer can do all of the calculations you might ever need to do.

It is equally true that by its nature anything a computer can do once it can automate doing endlessly. And so the sensei looks for opportunities to automate anything that is likely to occur more than once. OK, technically the effort spent automating should be equal to or less than the effort needed to do it manually both times, but in practice you should look for opportunities to automate anything that you will do multiple times. You will rarely be disappointed in this practice.

So, how do we apply this principle to our letter, or office memo, or whatever? The starting point is to understand and use Templates.

Listen to the audio version of this post on Hacker Public Radio!

 Save as PDF