LibreOffice, a fork or spinoff of OpenOffice.org, is a free, opensource suite of applications which provide a similar set of applications to Microsoft office. In this tutorial, iBrothers takes a look at one of those applications, writer.

Writer is the “Microsoft Word” equivalent of the LibreOffice suite. It is a powerful word processor providing an amazing amount of functionality. Many discover writer and LibreOffice when looking for a free way to open word documents. Unfortunately, many don’t go much further than that once that task is complete. As LibreOffice is free and has much going for it, it does make for a compelling reason why someone would first look to LibreOffice as a free alternative prior to purchasing Microsoft Office.

Writer, like the other members of the LibreOffice suite, is feature packed and can be a little overwhelming at the start. This tutorial is designed to introduce some of the basic elements of writer and should give you a grounding in how writer flows and what governs the backbone of making writer work for you.

Installing LibreOffice

Head to LibreOffice.org and click download. Select your operating system type, download the file and then run it.

For windows users, you should also ensure you have Java running on your systems. You can install Java from here.

Setting Language

While iBrothers noticed that on both the Mac and Windows installations, language settings were set by default to Australian English, it’s worth knowing where to find them should you need to make a change.

Ensuring that your document is actually spell checking in the right language is important. Head to LibreOffice → preferences (OS X) or Tools → Options (Windows) and to Languages. User interface is generally not as important (so long as it’s in a language you understand). Local setting and default languages are the important parts to ensure your documents look and work correctly.

Disable Autocomplete

Some people like it, others (such as yours truly) hates it. Autocomplete is LibreOffice’s way of trying to help you as you type. You will notice that as you start to type a word, LibreOffice will anticipate what that word will be and will fill the rest in for you. You can simply ignore this and continue to type the word, or press the space bar if it has added extra characters to the end of a shortened word (autocomplete will extend the word “for” for example to formatting every time). If you want to accept the autocompleted word, press the enter/ return key and keep typing.

If you want to disable autocomplete, click format, AutoCorrect, AutoCorrect options. Word completion is the last tab and here you can disable it.

Styles and Formatting, the key to writer

When first dealing with Open Office back in the day, it took me a while to figure out how nice and powerful working with styles and formatting actually was. Most importantly, how much easier it made working with documents. I believe that learning how Styles and Formatting work is essential to understanding Writer.

Styles and formatting follow your documents and templates meaning that once saved, if opened on a completely different system all the work you have done will follow the document.

Open up the Styles and Formatting pane (format, styles and formatting). Here you will see 5 main categories; Paragraph Styles, Character Styles, Frame Styles, Page Styles and List styles. The main two we will be looking at here are Paragraph Styles and Page Styles.

Paragraph styles does pretty much what it suggests, allows you to tweak a huge amount of settings relating to the the paragraph you are working with. Changing the font here changes it for the entire paragraph which is based on the style you are working with. Need to control common indents and spacing? Here is where you can do that.

 

Before beginning a new document, it’s worth taking some time to create a new style that you are happy with. For example, iBrothers prefers Helvetica Neue as a font, a font size of 10 so by creating a paragraph style called “iBrothers” and setting those font stylings, we know that our document paragraphs will have uniformity.

You will also notice an Organiser tab. This will allow you to stipulate a style to follow the one you are using. This is handy when, for example, you would like to use a recurring style that is for a single paragraph, but would like to jump back to a main style once you have started a new paragraph. For example, you have a document that references a lot of quoted text. That paragraph is styled using arial italic and uses a different background colour and font colour. Creating a paragraph style called “quoted text” and setting the “next style” option in Organizer back to your default style saves time.

Setting a style also enables you to make a “change en masse” to the style should you not like it. In the example above where you may have changed the background and font colours, you may decide that you would prefer it to be black text on white again. Changing the style will change it to every instance across your document without having to go back over it manually.

Page Styles is the next item to setup. Setting up a page style allows you to set parameters like margins, page size and orientation, headers and footers. It also gives you an “organiser” tab like paragraph styles, which is really handy when setting up a different page follower.

For example, say you have a document which has a cover page, followed by a table of contents followed by your regular pages and each of these has a different look (such as headers and footers, colours or even page orientation). By creating a page style for each and setting which one is to follow, you can easily ensure your look and feel are exactly the way you want it.

It is worth understanding how the styles influence LibreOffice. Many people who install it never move away from “default” for each section and end up highlighting massive amounts of text to effect a simple change.

Creating a Header

Select the page you wish to insert the header on and select the page style (double click) you would like for that page. Remember, the header you are creating will appear on every page which is of the same style. Select insert, header and select the page type you want to insert a header on. Click into the header area. From here you can insert tables, insert pictures or just standard text.

When clicking in the header tab, you will notice that the paragraph style in your styles and formatting pane will move to “header”. You can modify this paragraph style the same as any other paragraph style giving you global control of how headers should be formatted.

The same steps outlined above also apply to footers.

Inserting and managing images

Inserting an image is fairly simple. Click on the area (document body, header, footer) you would like your image placed, head to Insert, Picture, From File and select the image you want to insert. You can also select scan if you have a scanner installed. Once the image is inserted, you can click on it and scale it by dragging one of the green markers.

Right clicking on the image will give you some quick options to help make the image work the way you need it to.

After determining if the image should be centred, sit to the left or right, Anchoring is probably the first item that should be addressed as it controls the way the image will sit on your page. The following is from the OpenOffice wiki:

To Page The graphic keeps the same position in relation to the page margins. It does not move as you add or delete text or other graphics. This method is useful when the graphic does not need to be visually associated with a particular piece of text. It is often used when producing newsletters or other documents that are very layout intensive, or for placing logos in letterheads.

To Paragraph The graphic is associated with a paragraph and moves with the paragraph. It may be placed in the margin or another location. This method is useful as an alternative to a table for placing icons beside paragraphs.

To Character The graphic is associated with a character but is not in the text sequence. It moves with the paragraph but may be placed in the margin or another location. This method is similar to anchoring to a paragraph but cannot be used with drawing objects.

As Character The graphic is placed in the document like any other character and, therefore, affects the height of the text line and the line break. The graphic moves with the paragraph as you add or delete text before the paragraph. This method is useful for keeping screenshots in sequence in a procedure (by anchoring them as a character in a blank paragraph) or for adding a small (inline) icon in sequence in a sentence.

Wrap is also worth noting as it deals with how your text flows around your image. “No Wrap” for example will ensure that text will not wrap around the graphic, forcing it to a new paragraph. Other wrap settings are worth investigating to see how they affect the text and your picture.

LibreOffice offers some fairly detailed image controls and for the most part you don’t really need to know them all. Clicking once on the image brings up a picture edit window. Double clicking on the image will bring up a panel which allows you to set things like hyperlinks, cropping and also the wrap and anchor settings too.

Tables

To illustrate the importance of working with Styles and Formatting, it’s worth having a quick look at tables.

Inserting a table is relatively simple – Table, insert, table. You will be presented with a few basic options such as selecting the amount of columns and rows and if you wish to have a border.

Clicking in the table will reveal the table toolbar which gives you quick access to formatting options as well as being able to insert or remove columns and rows. What is also important to note is that when you click in a cell, the paragraph style jumps to Table Contents.

As with any other paragraph style, editing the default settings for Table Contents will allow you to set a common look and feel which will be applied to all tables within your document saving time and giving you the ability to quickly change parameters to all tables should you wish a change after you have completed your document.

Saving your document

LibreOffice uses the Open Document Format by default. While using this format ensures that your document will work correctly with all formatting options available to LibreOffice, sharing your file around with other people who don’t have LibreOffice or a word processor that supports the Open Document Format can be problematic.

The alternative is to save it into a format that is more easily recognised such as Word but the trade off is the possibility of formatting issues.

If you want to send your document to someone and they do not need to edit it, LibreOffice does offer a direct PDF export function, allowing you to save your document in a ODF and sending the person a copy of it as a PDF ensuring they see it the way it was intended.

Final Thoughts

If the one thing you keep in mind when beginning your journey into LibreOffice’s writer is that Styles and Formatting rules pretty much everything, the learning curve is much less steep. Having used a number of word processors in our time from Word Perfect, many versions of Microsoft Word, OpenOffice (which LibreOffice is a fork or deviation of) and Apple’s Pages, iBrothers believes that despite some occasional bugs, a less polished look and a slightly different way of going about things, LibreOffice is a powerful word processor which is worth spending some time getting to know. As a free alternative to Microsoft Office or Apple’s iWork suite what it lacks in actual looks is made up for by the price tag.

Update: Be sure to check out part 2 where we apply the information found here into a step by step tutorial.