Word Processing with OpenOffice.org Writer

Creating Texts with the AutoPilot

To use a standard format and predefined elements for your own documents, try the AutoPilot. This is a small utility that lets you make some basic decisions then produces a ready-made document from a template. For instance, to create a business letter, select File -> AutoPilot. In the submenu, select Letter…. This opens the dialog as shown in Figure 6.3: “The OpenOffice.org AutoPilot”.

Figure 6.3. The OpenOffice.org AutoPilot

The OpenOffice.org AutoPilot

Click Next in each page to proceed to the next one. To modify any previous entries, use Back. When finished, click Create to generate the letter according to your specifications. Exit the dialog with Cancel. Access a help document with Help.

When finished, click Create. OpenOffice.org produces a letter according your specifications. Now, compose the text (body) of the letter itself. AutoPilot is not limited to letters, but can also assist in the creation of faxes, agendas, memos, and presentations.

Creating Texts without the AutoPilot

Create a new text document by selecting File -> New -> Text Document. When editing a text document, a second toolbar, called the object bar, is available just below the standard function bar. Move the mouse pointer over an icon to get a short help text. Documents can also be formatted with the Stylist, which is described in Section “Working with the Stylist”.

Selecting Text

To select text, click the desired beginning of the selection and, keeping the mouse button pressed, move the cursor towards the end of the range (which can be characters, lines, or entire paragraphs). Release the button at the end of the desired selection. While selected, text is displayed in inverted colors. Open a context menu by right-clicking the selection. Use the context menu to change the font, the font style, and other text properties.

The Navigator displays information about the contents of a document. It also enables you to quickly jump to the different elements included. For example, use the Navigator to get a quick overview of all the chapters or to see a list of the images included in the document. Figure 6.4: “The Navigator in Writer” shows the Navigator in action. The elements listed in the Navigator vary according to the document loaded in Writer. Open the Navigator by selecting Edit -> Navigator.

Figure 6.4. The Navigator in Writer

The Navigator in Writer

Working with the Stylist

The Stylist can help you format text in a number of ways. It can be opened or closed at any time by toggling Format -> Stylist or by pressing F11. The dialog window of the Stylist is shown in Figure 6.5: “The Stylist for Writer”.

Figure 6.5. The Stylist for Writer

The Stylist for Writer

If you set the drop-down list at the lower edge of the Stylist to Automatic, OpenOffice.org tries to offer a selection of styles adapted to the task at hand. On the other hand, if you select All in the drop-down list, the Stylist offers all styles from the currently active group. Groups are selected with the buttons at the top. Text can be hard-formatted or soft-formatted:

Hard Formatting

Formatting properties are directly assigned to a text range and each property must be applied to each range by hand. The assignment is static and can only be changed manually. This is only recommended for short documents.

Soft Formatting

With this method, text is not formatted directly. It has a style applied to it. The style itself can be modified quite easily. Modifying a style automatically results in a formatting change of all the text to which it is assigned.

This approach has many advantages when creating larger documents (theses, books, and the like). Although not as intuitive, it is very efficient and fast if the formatting needs to be changed extensively and consistently. Using this method also makes it much easier to try different layouts with the document. Define the format of paragraphs, pages, and frames for a style and select fonts and numbering methods.

To assign a style to a paragraph select the style to use and click the paintbucket icon in the Stylist. Click the paragraphs to which to assign the style. Pressing Esc or clicking the paintbucket icon again turns off the function.

Easily create your own styles by formating a paragraph or a character as desired. Use the Character… and Paragraph… items in the Format menu to achieve the desired results. In the Stylist, click New Style from Selection (to the right of the bucket symbol). Enter a name for your style and click OK.

Now, you can use the newly created style on other parts of the document. Change details of the style easily by selecting it in the list, right-clicking, and selecting Modify… from the menu. This opens a dialog in which all the possible formatting properties are available for modification.

Inserting a Table

Create a table by clicking the Insert icon in the main toolbar and keeping it pressed for a few seconds. This opens another toolbar in which to specify the object to insert. If you now move the mouse cursor to the third icon, see a grid open, as shown in Figure 6.6: “Inserting a Table Using the Toolbar”.

Figure 6.6. Inserting a Table Using the Toolbar

Inserting a Table Using the Toolbar

If your table should have two columns and two rows, for instance, just run the mouse over that range of columns and rows to select them from the grid. When you release the button, the table is inserted into the document at the current text cursor position.


The Insert icon changes depending on the last object selected for insertion. This also means that you can now insert a table again with just a short click, without any need to reopen the pop-up toolbar.

Inserting Graphics

Graphics can be inserted with the same vertical pop-up toolbar as tables, only you need to select its second button. Alternatively, select Insert -> Graphics -> From File…. This opens a dialog window in which to select the desired file. If you check Preview, the selected image is displayed in the right part of the dialog. Such a preview may take some time in the case of larger images. After confirming your choice, the inserted image is placed in the document at the cursor position.

In the document itself, select an image by clicking it. When selected, an image has little square handles on its edges. Then select Graphics… from the context menu to open a dialog in which to change various image settings, such as the wrap type and border style.

To change the size of an image, first click it to activate it. Now click any of its handles, keep the button pressed, and drag the handle until the dashed frame reaches the desired size. When you release the button, the image is scaled according to your changes.

To change the position of an image while leaving its size unchanged, click the image and keep the mouse button pressed. Drag the image to the desired position.