The fundamental concept of textfiles is characters, which can be arranged into words, sentences, and paragraphs--I'll explain these terms in a bit. If you found my colleague's article on HTML too complex; fear not, this is where you need to be.
Except in godless foreign regions (a pox upon their benighted, chicken-scratching souls), characters are encoded in ASCII, the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (so down home and apple pie that it even has American in the name!) Since computers only know about numbers, ASCII gives every character you'll ever need a number so the computer knows how to deal with them.
The obvious choice for creating and editing textfiles is Microsoft Word, but technically any random editor can be used, for example, Microsoft Works, or Notepad, or Wordpad. I recommend against third-party editors because they can be confusing.
One great benefit of textfiles is that they don't need any sissy header text: you can just open up an editor and start typing. So let's learn about the elements of text!
Characters can be any of the following:
- upper and lower case letters (A-Z, a-z)
- numbers (0-9)
- punctuation (period, comma, parentheses, etc.)
- currency symbols ($; if you need others such as cents, use $0.01 instead)
- underscore (_)
- there are others but you don't need to worry about them yet
a, Q, 2 and $ are all characters.
Webster's seminal work, Dictionary, defines a word as
a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use
but all that means is that you can string some letters together to represent what you want to say, so don't be confused by the verbiage. Obviously you can read words since you're here (!) and fortunately writing them is also quite simple, just decide what you want to say and then type the characters on the keyboard that are in the words you want.
Hello, establishment, it, and potted plant are all words (note that the last groups two words together, to let advanced readers get a little ahead)
A sentence is a coherent sequence of words that terminates with a punctuation character such as a period (.), question mark (?), or exclamation mark (!). Usually you should just use periods (known in some countries as a "full stop" if I may be briefly unAmerican), but if you're curious you can use a question mark ("Dude, how can I write great articles like this one?") or you can use an exclamation mark ("Mom, I'm going to learn how to write text files!") to convey enthusiasm. Resist the urge to string together multiples, e.g. "Dude you rock!!!!!", no matter how happy and excited you may be.
This is a sentence.
"You hold the ball and I'll kick it, Charlie Brown," said Lucy. (also a sentence)
Thus far we've only dealt with simple characters, and spaces (to separate words). But sometimes you want to take it to the next level--group some sentences together for a particular purpose. Then you use a paragraph. For example, I was just explaining sentences, but now I'm talking about paragraphs, so I put a blank line after my last sentence about sentences to indicate that I'm beginning a new topic.
This document has many paragraphs; this is one of them.
I'm sure you've seen some horrible web pages with way too many colours and fonts, and too much formatting. You'll be relieved to know that text supports (in emulation) minimal formatting, so that you can concentrate on content.
It's simple: for italics, use _underscores_, for bold use *asterisks*, and just stay away from colours, except you can emulate foreground on background with spaces: (works for any colour display).
It is a little harder to do images in text than in HTML, well, really you can't actually embed images in HTML at all, they're external files, so actually text has one up on HTML here, not that we're competing or anything.
This is really a topic left to the experts but feel free to experiment, for example you can use minus signs (----------) for horizontal lines and pipes (|) for vertical lines and slashes (/ and \) for diagonals, + for corners, etc.
Use * for bulleted lists, and use your numeric keypad to make numbers for numbered lists.
Simulate them with images.
Use underscores (__________) and see images.
What is your name? [____________________]
What is your favourite colour? [__________]
Comments are for sissies, like images.
Clearly it has been shown that textfiles are a superior medium of communication. Welcome to the wonderful world of textfiles! Create a textfile of your own today!