Text formatting

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Text formatting is called in the word processing and other text-based applications of data processing , the description of how individual elements of the text to be displayed graphically. The first approaches were the rich text format . Nowadays a plethora of text editors offer numerous options.

The Microsoft Office packages use a proprietary coding for text formatting, which limits the compatibility with other word programs.

There are numerous alternatives such as the free exchange format OpenDocument .

The programming of text formatting is based on a set of rules that use certain codes in the source text of a text document to determine the attributes with which this text is displayed. Modern word processing is based on WYSIWYG ( what you see is what you get ), i.e. the graphical representation of the text formatting carried out - the user hardly gets to see the source text itself today.


Text formatting includes:

Formatting Concepts

Hard formatting

Hard formatting is the classic formatting that evolved from writing on the typewriter. Format settings (line width, tab stops , line spacing, character attributes such as bold, character spacing, and other attributes) are set and the font with these attributes is printed on the typewriter or displayed on the screen.

If (earlier) a typewriter was equipped with a buffer and a display, advanced attributes such as centered printing or justification could be selected.

In modern word processing, characters or text passages can be marked in which newly selected formats only affect the previously marked text passages.


  • quick and easy formatting of short text passages or new texts to be created.
  • Hardly formatted documents can be created as "quasi-templates" quickly and without specialist knowledge for new documents that can no longer be changed afterwards by changing the template.
  • Every processing step is immediately visible (“in real time”) and the effects are understandable; hardly any background knowledge about the internal operation of the software used is necessary.


  • it is time-consuming and error-prone to adapt existing text passages exactly to other text passages; While the formatting brush is usually still practicable within a document, the adaptation of thousands of existing documents to new design templates "by hand" is practically impossible.
  • Existing format attributes cannot be adapted to the formatting of the target document without adapting them (which may also be desirable in some cases).
  • Many word processing automation mechanisms, such as the automatic creation of tables of contents, do not work, but require the use of soft formatting .

Hard formatting is usually suitable for private correspondence, documents that are not very extensive and for users with little specialist knowledge, as it is easy to use and every processing step is immediately visible.

Typical applications

Typical uses for "hard formatting" are:

Soft formatting

Soft formatting is working with styles. For this purpose, format templates are created (optionally for pages, paragraphs, or text) and either used when writing or an existing text is formatted with the assignment of an existing template. Old texts can be quickly and easily adapted to a changed company design. With some programs it is even possible to call up an old text and optionally to automatically adapt it to the associated changed standard template (which is defined in the template document). Even within a longer document, as is usual for specialist work or more extensive project documentation, a changed template can change all text passages that are linked to this template at the simple "push of a button".

Soft formatting is now the common form of professional text formatting. However, it is too time-consuming for individual text passages and spontaneous design ideas, since the creation and management of templates requires more time than can be saved with the simple assignment in a specific situation.

Advantages and disadvantages

are exactly the opposite of hard formatting, see above

Typical applications

Typical uses for "soft formatting" are:

  • practically all newly created office documents that are started with standard templates (e.g. margin and font settings), as long as these are not replaced by your own templates or overlaid with hard formatting.
  • Document templates from the manufacturers of office programs for frequent uses, e.g. B. Letter templates, specialist work, business cards or design templates for presentations
  • self-created templates or customized document templates that are created for individual use or by companies for use by their employees
  • Templates for customized uses, templates created by wizards, e.g. B. for serial letters, or templates for special purposes, such as. B. complex spreadsheets with input fields, formulas or script programming, which are often offered on download sites and can sometimes replace simple applications

Document templates that go far beyond the actual text formatting, possibly also with hidden functions, can contain macro viruses and thus endanger the computer or the data of the user. The exchange of documents or the use of document templates from untrustworthy sources therefore represents a specific security risk. The execution of macro elements must therefore generally be explicitly approved by the user.

Formatting concepts in technological change

Before word processing systems penetrated the offices, documents were immediately created on paper, almost in real time. Subsequent changes or adjustments were therefore practically impossible. It was only with the text memory that it was possible - even with a typewriter - to save certain formatting settings and call them up at the push of a button. Fixed settings such as the paper feed ensured even upper and, if necessary, lower margins, highlighting, and letterhead forms could be filled out semi-automatically on high-end devices.

Word processing systems, however, enabled a fundamental change in concept. While you previously had to know and count the spacing lines and tab spacing for letterheads and other standard documents exactly, it has now become possible to use document templates to define frames, tab stops and other design elements that enable standard-compliant letter design with almost no specialist knowledge. The computer “knows” the position in which the address must be in order to be visible through the standardized address window, the distance between the subject line and the upper margin and how indentation or contrasts are to be formatted. Formatting is no longer done in real time, but the text is classified according to purpose and content and assigned to a template provided for this purpose.

In modern, mostly HTML- capable text editors, text formatting is also conveyed using format templates , which comprise a set of predefined formatting rules and which can be overlaid using direct (hard) formatting . In this regard, word processing works with the same principles that web design works with, and which are either coded directly in HTML / XML (and variants) or formatted using CSS in the sense of a format template.

The technological change is also reflected in the history of the standard DIN 5008 published by the German Institute for Standardization , which is essential for word processing . While the 1988 edition was still entitled Typewriting Rules , the 2020 edition was titled Typewriter and Design Rules for Word and Information Processing and no longer mentions the typewriter at all.

See also