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The Difference Between a Word Processor and a Text Editor

Friday, February 26th, 2010 by | Filed Under: Computer Terms
 
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Q:
What’s the difference between a text-editor and a word processor?

A:
Good question, and a tricky one as well!

At first glance, it would seem like they are both the same. They both edit text, but a word processor does it more extensively than a text editor. Let’s go into a little detail and see what we come up with.

Text editors do just that; they edit plain, basic text files. You can do basic editing tasks such as cut, copy and paste. You can also undo/redo the last thing you typed. If you want to type up some notes, use a text editor. Whichever font you use in the document stays throughout the document; you cannot change fonts within the document. When you type, your typing just keeps going and going; if you want to add another line, you manually have to hit the enter key when you want to go to the next line. You can also edit HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) files with a text editor. In other words, you can actually build a web site with a text editor. A good example of a basic text editor is Notepad, which comes as a part of the software bundled into the Windows operating system.

Word processors edit text, too, but that’s not their only function. In a word processor, you can change the formatting in your document, using things like italic and bold fonts. You can draw and insert tables. An automatic spell and grammar check is available. A lot of word processors have “wizards” that will guide you through the creation of a business letter or a resume. You have a thesaurus available if you feel the word you’re using isn’t the right one for the sentence it’s in. Some word processors even have “Themes” available; these are pre-formatted templates to use for your documents. Some word processors now can create and edit HTML. One popular word processor is Microsoft Word (which does not come with Windows and must be purchased separately).

So where does this leave us? I finally figured it out.

When you type a document in a text editor, if you transfer that text into a word processing document, the plain text will insert special characters into the document. Any formatting that is done in a text editor does not remain when copied over to a word processing document.

In addition, you have to be careful when you save the file that was copied into the word processing document. If you save it as a text (.txt) file, then you risk having special characters inserted and making your word processing document unreadable.
Another thing that makes them different is that word processors have the capabilities to alter features such as font and tables, where as text editors do not.

So there you have it. Whew! It took me long enough!

~Lori

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