Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks - Part 2: Aligning Paragraphs

I recently helped a newcomer to the world of word processing. Her techniques were definitely rooted in the days of the typewriter and applying the rules for document layout that she had learned so many years ago definitely made editing her documents difficult!

The first problem was centering a title. In typewriter days students were taught to position the carriage in the center of the platen and then to spell out their title in their head, pressing the space bar once for every two letters in the title. Gosh, that sounds like a bunch of techno-babble. I am not even going to try to explain it. Instead, lets take a look at the modern universal sign for line placement. This screen shot is from TextEdit.
I recently helped a newcomer to the world of word processing. Her techniques were definitely rooted in the days of the typewriter and applying the rules for document layout that she had learned so many years ago definitely made editing her documents difficult!

The first problem was centering a title. In typewriter days students were taught to position the carriage in the center of the platen and then to spell out their title in their head, pressing the space bar once for every two letters in the title. Gosh, that sounds like a bunch of techno-babble. I am not even going to try to explain it. Instead, lets take a look at the modern universal sign for line placement. This screen shot is from TextEdit.



This one is from iWork Pages.



Both of these were found in the toolbar at the top of the document. However, sometimes that tool bar may not be present, so lets take a look for the command in a few menus.

I use RapidWeaver to make my web pages. It does not have a formatting toolbar, so the commands are found in the Format menu.



In TextEdit, the command is in a sub-menu of Format



In iWork Pages, the alignment commands are located in the Format menu. Choose text and then use the Text pullout to choose the style of alignment.



In each of these applications, the keyboard shortcuts are the same, so learning how to use the keyboard to change the alignment means you do not have to go searching through the menus to choose text alignment.

While most Mac users know that the symbol for the Command or Apple key, most of the others are not as widely known. This is a quick reference for you.



Let's figure out how to type the keyboard shortcuts. The modifier keys are Command, Option, Control and Shift. Each must be held down while clicking (press and let go) on the letter that completes the shortcut. In many cases, two or more modifier keys must be held down together, and just to make things a bit more confusing, if the letter key is really not a letter, the keyboard shortcut may not make it clear that you will need to hold down the shift key. This is the case for the alignment commands since they use the bracket which is the top symbol on their keys.





So, to align to text to the right side of the page, the keyboard shortcut is Command - }. But to use the shortcut, you will need to press Command - Shift - }.

The shortcut to move the text back to a left alignment looks like Command - {, but you will have to type Command - Shift - {.

To center text or a title, the shortcut is Command - |, but you will have to type Command - Shift - Pipestem. Yes, I know that it looks like I typed and upper case I or a lower case L, but in fact, I just used the key that resides between the Delete key and the Return Key.

Now, let's take a look at the term paragraph. Back in school I learned that a paragraph was a unit was a collection of at least three sentences on a single theme. A paragraph had a beginning sentence . . .

No, this is not English class and that definition certainly does not fit much of modern writing. Take a look at the New York Times! Many of their paragraphs are only one sentence long.

Okay, in word processing, a paragraph is a section of a piece of writing that is indicated by a new line. This means that each time you press the Return key, you are forming a new paragraph. Following this logic, a title is a paragraph. Items in a list are a paragraph, or a collection of sentences on a single them are a paragraph, and the date at the beginning of a letter is a paragraph.

If the line is made up of sentences, the paragraph will probably be aligned with the left margin. There is little consideration given to the right edge of the text. Another name for this paragraph style is "ragged right."



In some instances it is visually desirable to have both the right and left margins aligned with the edge of the page (or column). This style is called "justified" test. In the days of the typewriter, setting paragraphs to have justified edges required not only a specialized typewriter, but also a very experienced typist.



Paragraphs that are used as titles are an example of when you might center a paragraph.

That leaves only right alignment. It is primarily used when it is desirable to have a date aligned with the right margin. It is also sometimes used in formatting poems.

There are lots of other things to explore when we compare typewriter techniques to word processing ones. Come back soon and I will have added another segment to this series.

In the meantime, if you need to learn more about your Macintosh or word processing or many other topics, you may want to check out our services at Bob LeVitus Consulting. We not only offer troubleshooting, but also buying advice and tutoring. Give us a call or fill out the feedback form to get in touch with us!

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