Starting with the Right Tools
Choosing a word processor is perhaps the most important task for any writer. UAB students are required to use computer word processing throughout their academic careers, but requirements for academic writers are usually centered around a black and white document of a certain file type. Commercial, nonprofit, and government entities outside of academia require professional writers” to compose documents in a number of styles and formats. Professional writers with knowledge of the differences in word processors can be confident that the documents they compose will look and function as intended.
Ethical Software Usage
Like many universities, UAB offers a discounted student version of the market’s leading office application suite, Microsoft Office, which comes with the market’s leading word processor, Microsoft Word. Student versions of many word processors, including Microsoft Office, are not appropriate for use in any setting outside of academia.
The Microsoft Office 365 University product offered by UAB is not licensed for any work outside of the university.
The only versions of Microsoft Office licensed for commercial, nonprofit, or government use contain the words Business or Professional in their product names.
For professional writers, staying aware of software licensing restrictions is a matter of conducting ethical business practices. A word processor licensed for business use is a vital component of every professional writer’s toolkit. Submitting a document composed on an unlicensed word processor can damage a professional writer’s reputation.
Selecting a Word Processor
Word processors come in two main categories: Open Source and Proprietary. Open Source word processors are free since they are developed with publicly available source code. Proprietary word processors are developed using confidential source code, and they usually have a purchase price ranging from a few dollars for some mobile device apps to nearly one-hundred dollars for the latest version of Word. Some proprietary word processors such as Google Docs and a number of mobile device apps are free. Limitations in the earliest open source word processors often kept them from being viable for professional writing work, but today’s major open source offerings, such as OpenOffice Writer and LibreOffice Writer, include many of the same features available in expensive proprietary programs.
All Open Source word processors are licensed for commercial, nonprofit, government, and academic use.
For a list of word processors best suited for desktop and laptop use, Wikipedia holds a comprehensive list of open source and proprietary word processors. To find word processing apps and reviews for iOS devices, search for “word processor” in the iTunes Store on your device or computer. Android users can find the same information through the Google Play app or by visiting the Google Play store.
Document Transfer between Word Processors
There’s really no guarantee that a document created in one word processor will transfer accurately to another word processor if it includes even the most basic formatting changes. Professional writers can maximize their time and effort by finding out what types of files and word processors a client uses before beginning a writing project. Even simple documents can be disrupted by the hurdles users must go through to open and edit documents in multiple word processors. For this reason, clients usually ask for final documents in the PDF file format (.pdf). Every major open source and proprietary digital word processor has the ability to export a document as a PDF, and PDF files can be viewed consistently on almost every current computing device available. Professional writers submitting PDF files have the assurance that the formatting in the document they submit will be rendered accurately on most computing devices.
The Problem with the PDF
Content and formatting in a PDF file can be difficult to revise with precision. Clients who want to edit the documents they receive from professional writers often ask for the original word processor file in addition to a PDF copy. Because of this, and because of the ubiquity of Microsoft Office in the professional world, professional writers should seriously consider spending time learning how the word processor they chose interacts with Word if they are not planning on purchasing a copy of Word licensed for commercial use.