Word Processing: Definition of a Character

I teach CIT (computer information technology) to everyone grades Kindergarten to adults. One thing I can’t emphasize enough when teaching word processing is the basic principle that EVERYTHING is a character. I use Microsoft Word in the classroom, but if you don’t have access to it, you can download Open Office for FREE from OpenOffice.org. This word processing program similar features.

What is a Character

The computer sees EVERYTHING you type as a character. Not just the letters, numbers, and what YOU think of as characters. Spaces you create with the space bar, the tabs you create with the tab key, and the new line characters you create with the enter key are all characters.  People (kids and adults alike) get so frustrated over formatting issues. Ninety percent of those frustrations can be alleviated by understanding this concept.

Microsoft word and Open Office both have a feature you can toggle on and off called “Show/Hide ΒΆ”. You can find the “Show/Hide” toggle on the home ribbon (ribbon definition post coming soon). The button has the paragraph symbol (ΒΆ) on it.

Illustration 1: Circled in red on the Microsoft Word window above is the Hide/Show toggle.
Open Source
Illustration 2: The Hide/Show toggle is circled in red on the Open Source window above.

The “Hide/Show” toggle not only shows you the paragraph symbols in your document. It also shows you a dot for each space created with the space bar, and a tab character (tab ) where every there is white space created with the tab key.

It is imperative that you only use the space bar to create a space in between words. The tab key should be used to create indents or to align columns of text, and the page break to start a new page. I will create a video tutorial to demonstrate all of this as soon as I have time and will put a link to it in this post when I do. If you have any questions on this subject, please feel free to post them below, or email me at amy@amylsutton.com.

4 thoughts on “Word Processing: Definition of a Character”

  1. With modern word-processing, a “character” gets more complicated than it used to be back in the good old ASCII days. Even, back in the ASCII days, Character 13 was a carriage return. It was what was called a “control-character” in that it told a teletype terminal to return the carriage to the beginning of the page, it would have to be combined with a line feed character, Character 10, in order to advance the paper to the next row. Even though people stopped using teletype terminals 30-40 years ago, Windows still saves txt files by default with both a line-feed and a carriage return. It is an artefact of the past that has followed and haunted IT professionals for years.

    The cure, is the advancement to Unicode and markup languages. HTML, most famously developed into the World Wide Web by Tim Berners Lee doesn’t rely on control characters, instead, a CR/LF is recorded as . And if it is ever necessary to display using HTML, it can be special entity encoded or displayed within .

    I quite enjoyed the read, it’s nice to hear someone explaining the basic units of computing. Maybe you could write your next article on different code pages? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_page)

    1. Thank you so much for the encouragement, Robert. I will consider your suggestion and also post some basics about binary, one of my favorite subjects. πŸ™‚

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