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[Tutorial] New to Writer or word processing

PostPosted: Fri Jun 17, 2016 12:03 am
by floris v
Here are some very basic suggestions for people who are new to Writer or word processing about issues that pop up on the forum regularly.

Know your enemy
The first thing to do is to get comfortable with the interface and to know where all the functions and commands are hiding that you need. Like saving a document, inserting page numbers and modifying the behavior of that pesky autocorrect that changes your formatting and spelling even if you didn't ask for it. More ...

Safety first
* Save your work regularly, like every 15 minutes.
* Save your work in the native format of the program you use, for Writer that's the open document format, Writer files are saved as .odt.
* Give the computer some time to write your file to disk.

Writer and MS Word
Lots of people ask us about the compatibility of Writer and Word. The truth is, it depends on how you define "compatible". Many people have wildly exaggerated ideas about that. While the Writer and Word file formats have much in common, both have features that are missing in the other, and you just can't convert features from one application type to another, where those features are missing. For a more thorough discussion of compatibility, see [Tutorial] Differences between Writer and MS Word files.

Opening and editing PDF files
We get lots of questions from users who are new to OpenOffice and expect that you can open PDF files with it. However, because PDF was originally intended to be read-only, and Adobe supplied a free PDF Reader, OpenOffice didn't at first add PDF viewing or editing features. There is now an extension that allows you to open a PDF file in Draw and do some very elementary editing. However, you shouldn't want to edit a PDF, just as you wouldn't want to edit a printed copy of a digital document. If you have the original document that was exported to the PDF format, you should edit the original and export the result to PDF, that will always give better results.

Spell check problems
You don't just need dictionaries so that OO can spell check your documents. You also need to tell it what language the documents are written in. You find the language selection list on the Font tab of the paragraph style or character style dialog box (but not on the Font tab of the Format - Paragraph dialog box).
If spell checking doesn't work as it should, it often helps to reset the user profile. Click here for help how to do that. Resetting the user profile can also solve many other problems. If it doesn't help, consult [Troubleshooting] Spell check in OpenOffice.
Always proofread your work. The spell checker just marks words that aren't in its dictionary, it doesn't notice if you type a correctly spelled word when you intended to type another, for instance: "brood" for "broad".

Formatting and styles
It is quite tempting to format text using the buttons on the toolbar at the top of the window. There you can easily adjust the font face and size of the text, as well as indentation, line height, and much more. However, it is better to ignore these tools as much as possible and to use (built-in) styles (which, incidentally, you can customize at will).
Why should you do that?
1. It's much easier to get a consistent formatting if you use styles: You just apply the Heading 1 style to a chapter title and that's it; when you do it by applying direct formatting, you may have more work, but it's also easy to make mistakes.
2. If you want to change the formatting of headings or of the text body, you only have to modify the style(s), when you work with direct formatting, you need to find all spots with that specific formatting and change it. And because direct formatting overrules styles formatting, you may get stuck with some wrong formatting that just doesn't go away, no matter what you do.
3. You can automatically get a table of contents when you use styles for headings, and you can't get them with text with only direct formatting. The same is true for chapter name fields in page headers - they too are populated by (heading) styles.

The behavior of headers and footers is controlled by page styles, and mastering their mechanics takes some serious effort. See [Tutorial] Page styles and headers/footers for a discussion of the most important pitfalls. Warning: reports have it that it's not an easy read.

When OO turns bad
All customizations in the interface, autocorrect options, extensions that didn't come with the install file and so on are managed in the so-called user profile, a folder in your user account on your computer. See[Tutorial] The OpenOffice User Profile for all information about that. When AOO or LibreOffice misbehaves, resetting the user profile often helps, where re-installing does nothing, because a re-install doesn't reset the user profile.

Know your enemy

PostPosted: Fri Jun 17, 2016 9:12 am
by floris v
An important place to check out is Tools - Options (on Apples Preferences under the Apple icon). Take a good look at the tabs and see what can you can configure. Enter your name in the User data tab, then OO will remember where you made your last edit in a document and open it at that spot. Next select the General tab and tick Tips and Extended tips and Help agent, then close the dialog and move the mouse over the toolbars to see information about the use of each icon. Make a note of things that you find interesting.
Also survey Tools - AutoCorrect Options. Play with the settings to see what they do, it will save you a lot of headaches when you know in advance where you can turn off behaviors that you don't want.

You do not have to read the whole Help before you begin, much of Writer works fairly intuitively. But there are exceptions, for example, the styles and especially page styles. Press F11 to open the Styles list (or to close it). Right-click a style and choose Modify. Check out all tabs of the dialog box and see what options you have. Close the dialog box, click on the fourth icon from the left at the top of the styles list to open the list of page styles and repeat.

You can also find much information in the Tutorials section on this forum. Make a mental note of the subjects, sooner or later you may want to do something that is well explained in a tutorial but may take a while to figure out for yourself.

It is tempting to work in a "clean" window - for example, to hide non-printing characters such as paragraph breaks, tab stops and the like,and also guide lines, but that's not a good idea. It is better to force Writer to display paragraph breaks, blanks, non-breaking spaces, tabs and line break in Tools - Options - Writer - Formatting Aids, the other options are less important. You see if you somehow entered a line break or a paragraph break, double spaces become visible and so on.

If you're completely new to computers as well
OpenOffice is fairly complex software and it has what's called a learning curve. If you aren't "computer savvy" and you want to stay that way, you will get in trouble sooner or later. If you want to get help here, for instance, you will have to be able to explain what your problem is with so much detail that we understand what your problem is so that we can help you. And if you can't properly state your problem, you probably won't be able to find a solution in the Help files. So: get yourself informed.

Safety first

PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2016 11:38 pm
by floris v
You don't want to lose your work by a power cut or a computer crash. You can tell OpenOffice to save auto recovery information every so many minutes, but that's not the same as saving your file. Saving autorecovery information takes time and blocks Writer while it's busy, so why not really save it just as often and turn autorecovery off? Save your work regularly, like every 15 minutes. Saving 15 or 20 minutes was the norm when programs were run from a floppy disk and data was saved to a floppy disk, a slow process, so you didn't want to do that often.

When you work with files on a usb stick, copy the file to your hard disk, edit the copy from the hard disk and save it to the hard disk, copy the result to the usb stick. Make sure that you only unplug the usb stick when all writes to it have been completed.

Save your work in the native format of the program you use, for Writer that's the open document format, Writer files are saved as .odt. Remember that Writer will always convert files saved in another format to its own format, and that when you edit that file, you're basically editing a file in Writer's native format, which will be converted back to that other format when you save it in that format (if this sounds rather elaborately worded, that's intentional, to drive home that this is a messy process), so you might as well save it in Writer's native format anyway.

Give your computer a break. Nowadays a computer doesn't write data to the hard disk as soon as you tell it to save a file, it will load your file to a cache buffer and write that to the hard disk only when it gets full, to increase efficiency. So when you're done computing, give your computer time to write stuff to the hard disk before shutting it down. Don't unplug it to shut it down, use the regular shut down procedure built into the operating system, that's especially important for laptops.