Information and Communication Technology

Working with text and tables

to improve page appearance and clarity of information

This page is mainly about practical aspects of using ICT. In particular, using text and tables in a document.

Most ICT courses at this level (IGCSE / GCSE etc.) involve a practical examination or some course work. In either case it is important that you use your ICT skills to present your work as well as you can.

This is often explicit in the course specification as e.g. presenting work in an appropriate format, maximising clarity, making the work fit for purpose,

What is meant by appropriate or fit for purpose will depend on the task which has been set or the project which you choose to do. A business scenario will demand a different approach to a social networking based scenario, which will in turn be different to what is need in writing up a Science report.

Text formatting and using tables to present information or improve page layouts are skills which can be applied to many types of software. They are probably most often used with word processors and desk top publishers, but may also be useful when using spreadsheets, databases, web authoring software, presentation software and art and graphics packages.

Bullets and numbering

Bullets and numbering appear to be relatively modern inventions in the context of writing.

Early written works show the use of text divisions and lists of items, but the use of chapter numbers seems to be rare before the Medieval period. e.g. Bibles from the 1200s have numbered chapters for the first time.

Bullets in their present form seem to have followed the invention of the printing press in the 1400s. with the name 'bullet' being used for a large dot because of its shape. Early gun bullets being spheres of lead, named from the French word boulette, meaning little ball.

Nowadays the use of bullets and numbering is common. Many documents, e.g. regulations, instruction sheets, and IGCSE specifications, show bulleted lists and numbered sections and sub-sections.

Why use bullets and numbering?

1. If it says to use them in an examination question. There will be marks for showing your technical ability. Pay attention to what is being asked; bullets and / or numbers, sections and subsections, type of division, e.g. (i), (ii) / A, B / 1.1, 1.2,

2. If It improves the appearance of a page. This is likely to come under 'making a publication fit for purpose'. Newspapers, newsletters, advertising leaflets and pamphlets may all benefit from using bullets to list key points, while instructions and explanations of how you did something may benefit from numbered sections.

Most word processors and desk top publishers have bullets and numbering functions built in. These allow quite complex arrangements, with many levels of bulleting and different numbering systems. Try not to get too complex though, especially in a practical examination. Complexity takes time and unless a question specifically asks for multiple levels (unlikely), you won't get extra marks for producing them

Alignment, tabs, and spacing

In the days of handwritten documents, any attempt at alignment or line spacing relied on the judgement of the person doing the writing.

Most documents were left aligned, leaving a ragged right hand edge to the writing. Unless of course they were in a script such as Hebrew which is written from left to right. Then it would be right aligned with a ragged left edge.

Line spacing was usually achieved by drawing ruled lines on the page before writing the text.

Tabs were not really considered, although many documents had indented paragraphs etc. with the indent size measured with a ruler or judged by eye.

Once printing arrived, text alignment could be adjusted to fit the words to the page. This usually involves a process known as kerning, where the space between letters is adjusted to make the text fit the desired line length.

Line spacing also became easier to adjust. Different sized strips of lead could be placed between lines of type to give the required distance between lines.


Tabs started with the invention of the typewriter. When the tab key was pressed, it would release the spring loaded carriage that carried the paper. The carriage would move to the left and stop at the next tab stop, a mechanical device that could be set at any distance along the carriage. This made it easier to create columns.

Most word processors and desk top publishers have alignment, tab, and line spacing settings built in.

Why use alignment, tab, and spacing?

1. If it says to use them in an examination question. There will be marks for showing your technical ability.

2. If It improves the appearance of a page. This is likely to come under 'making a publication fit for purpose'. The default settings will be acceptable for most purposes, but if you can improve the appearance of your work by making some simple changes it may be worth spending a minute or two on that.

Text fonts and styles

Text has displayed the characteristics of colour, font and style ever since people began writing things down.

Different coloured inks were used for emphasis or decoration.

Lines were drawn with different thicknesses.

Letters, or symbols, could be upright or sloping, written large or small, given flourishes and elaboration, etc.

When documents were hand written, producing these characteristics was known as caligraphy.

When printing was invented this variation in text was still wanted, but using a printing press meant that choices had to be restricted.


Colour was restricted by the available inks, and the difficulties of printing multiple colours on one page.

The letter shapes and sizes were restricted by the limitations of casting the lead type.

With the advent of word processing and desktop publishing, at first the restrictions became greater due to the limitations of early computers and printers. Developments in technology soon overcame most of the problems and today there is a vast range of fonts (letter shapes) to choose from. Colour printing can produce any colour and the only real limitations on size are readability and the size of paper that can be printed on.

Why change font, colour or style?

1. If it says to do so in an examination question. There will be marks for showing your technical ability.

2. If It improves the appearance of a page. This is likely to come under 'making a publication fit for purpose'. The default settings will be acceptable for most purposes, but if you can improve the appearance of your work by making some simple changes it may be worth spending a minute or two on that.

3. If the examination question gives a context for the text that must be produced. Again, this is 'making a publication fit for purpose'. e.g. if the context is a page of a book designed for seven year olds, then the font, colour and style might be large, brightly coloured and could look like the picture for this section.

On the other hand, if the context is a web page for displaying technical information, it might look a bit like this.

Tables

Don't forget, all the bullets, tabs, styles, etc. can be used inside tables

Tables have long been used to display information more clearly.

In handwritten documents, tables may have lines ruled to make boxes, but they are frequently just a set of columns. This is also true of early printed documents and of typed ones. Indeed, the use of a TAB key dates from the typewriter era.

Modern word processors and desktop publishers make using tables simple. All but the simplest offer a set of table format tools that will allow borders and shading as well as the use of text styles. Most will allow cells to be split or merged to allow irregular table structure.


Why use tables?

1. If it says to do so in an examination question. There will be marks for showing your technical ability.

2. If It improves the appearance of a page or makes the displayed data easier to understand. This is likely to come under 'making a publication fit for purpose'

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