What is a text editor? Why use one?

formattingHow many times have you heard “Don’t use MS Word! Use a text editor!” and then thought, “I thought MS Word was a text editor?” Well it is, but it isn’t.

Let’s put this another way. MS Word is a word processor, meaning that it is able to format and manipulate text in a variety of fancy ways. A text editor, in the pure sense of it, only does one thing: it edits text. It can also do some basic bullet lists and maybe a rudimentary table, but it is, compared to MS Word, relatively stripped down. And this is good!

The reason is this: MS Word, in its ability to do magical things with your content, generates a lot of invisible code strings. This is fine if your MS Word document goes no further than its own platform. But if the content you are composing has to be transferred to some other platform, say an email, blog post, or Moodle, then you start getting into trouble. Those invisible codes wreak havoc on your formatting within those other platforms. You can see evidence of this if you copy/paste something from MS Word into a Moodle module, and then view it in HTML view. All kinds of extra junk in there!

What does a text editor (not) do?

A text editor only utilizes basic formatting capabilities so that when you copy/paste content into another platform, it transfers only your text and basic formatting – and nothing else. This will help keep your formatting consistent throughout your document, and it will make your text behave consistently when you manipulate it in an email, blog post, or Moodle module.

Here is a list of text editors: