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Software at work: the basic programs that enable you to do your job

By Edie Fossey

Most jobs require you to use software.  Even non-professional factory jobs, more and more, involve computers.

Of course many professions require their own special software. I’m thinking here, for example, of accountants, bookkeepers, designers, and project managers. But along with job-specific requirements, most office professionals need software for: word processing and number crunching. They also need slightly more sophisticated software for such tasks as keeping track of clients and products.

So in this article, I examine the most common software programs virtually all professionals need.

Word processing

Everyone needs a method for composing, editing, formatting, and printing documents. Be it writing or editing correspondence, marketing copy, legal documents, or any other type of company text, word processing is part of just about everyone’s job.

Microsoft, the world’s software titan, offers the most ubiquitous program used by companies and individuals.  Undoubtedly you are familiar with – and likely have used — Microsoft Word, or more simply, “Word.”

Word is part of bundled group of programs called Microsoft Office Suite, which also includes Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Access. The bundling of software enables these programs to work together seamlessly with shared commands and functionality.  Available on the Windows and Mac platforms, it is provided with templates, shortcuts, and “helpers” that are big time savers.

Bad spellars of the werld untie! Everyone knows about spell-check and grammar-check features on Word.  But some are not aware of the “find and replace” feature, where you can change a specific word in a document, or change all instances of it, with one click.

Imagine a 36-page product catalog. But a particular name used throughout the catalog has changed. With “find and replace” it’s a simple edit function; no need to recompose.

Ever type a whole paragraph or document WITH THE CAPSLOCK ON? Conditional formatting allows you to select the capitalization you want: sentence capitalization, every word capped, no caps. This is another important time saver!

The ability to work with the other bundled Office Suite programs allows you to link and embed text in, say, an Excel spreadsheet document, and edit it from within the document if need be. Collaborating on shared documents is another much-used and extremely helpful feature.

I recommend becoming proficient in advanced features such as collaborative editing with tracking changes, indexing, hyperlinking, and mail merge. These will make your life easier and allow your skills to stand out.

Of course, there are other word-processing programs out there. Some are free to use and not part of a suite of products.  For example, there is Google Docs, which is a free web-based application for creating, editing, and sharing documents (and spreadsheets). Meanwhile, you store your documents online, enabling access from anywhere, with a full-featured web browser and internet connection. Compatible with most other word-processing software, it offers a myriad of features and includes voice-typing and editing.

Another helpful function: You can “tag” someone in a document in order for them to receive a notification email asking them to comment. Also, you can right click a word and choose “define” or “research” to start a search for relevant information you then can drop into your document.

Bottom line: Google Docs provides basic programs one needs to complete daily tasks along with storage, collaboration, and accessibility features MS Office and other programs do not.

Other word-processing software include: WordPerfect, which is favored for legal applications, and iWork, which is a free Mac- and iOS- (mobile device) office suite containing word-processing, presentation, spreadsheet-application, and desktop-publishing software available through iCloud.

Email communication

Dovetailing with word-processing software is email communication software, which is the lifeblood of every organization. Used for sharing all types of messages, making assignments, documenting agreements, it connects company employees around the world as seamlessly as it does within an office building.

Email software usually contains a calendar function for scheduling meetings and a database of email addresses for invitees. You also will have the ability to attach agendas and other relevant material.

Outlook, bundled in the Microsoft Office Suite, is the feature-laden standard. Outlook can be used as a standalone, or with server applications to enable you to share mailboxes and calendars.

Your Outlook calendar not only can record your meeting times, it can enable you to alert yourself to deadlines.

Meanwhile, Gmail is the Google version of email. It’s a free, advertising-supported email service.  Among its notable functions: It offers free space to archive your email and easy-to-use filters, including spam filters. Meanwhile, those Gmail ads are unobtrusive.

Spreadsheet and calculation software

Need to arrange data and run calculations? Then you require a “spreadsheet” to organize and store data in rows and columns on a grid.

Once used primarily to present data, produce budgets, calculate taxes, and create profit/loss statements, spreadsheets originated as software primarily for the accounting field.  Now, spreadsheets also are used in any context where lists are built, sorted, and shared. Its power comes from using formulas to manipulate and extrapolate data.

The most popular spreadsheet program, MS Excel, part of the Microsoft Office Suite, is used quite extensively in business. It features calculating, graphing, and macro-programming capabilities.

Spreadsheets also are extremely useful in marketing, including, for example, in determining from a list of customers who bought what product, or what geographic areas bought what product.  You also can sort and create a list of customers in order to do a mail merge with a letter you create in Word.

Google Docs and iWork suites also have spreadsheet applications.


Final comments: Familiarity with most word processing-, spreadsheet- and email-programs will provide skills that translate skills into other programs. That’s because the features of one program are often replicated in a competitor’s software. Therefore, knowing a feature exists can translate into a new way to accomplish a task in another program. Also, most software offers tutorials, while sites like and offer on-line courses to strengthen and expand your software skills.


Edie Fossey, a marketing graphics project manager, can be reached at

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