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What is a WYSIWYG Editor?

By Emma G.
Updated May 16, 2024
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WYSIWYG, pronounced wiziwig, is an acronym that stands for what you see is what you get. When used in computing, this term means that what appears on the screen is what the final product will look like. A WYSIWYG editor may be used to create web pages, documents, or other formatted material. Microsoft Word is an example of a WYSIWYG editor.

In the modern world of computing, many programs use WYSIWYG editing, but that was not always the case. When word processing software was first introduced, users had to memorize a series of symbols and codes to format a document. Spacing, font size, and other characteristics of the format would have to be essentially coded in. Codes did not always translate from one word processor to another. Changing word processors was a hassle because it required a whole new set of codes.

Modern word processing software has solved a lot of these problems. Instead of inserting a snippet of code to make text into italics, the user can just highlight the word and click an italics button. The word then appears in italics, both on screen and in the printed document. If fact, if a user wants to see the editing symbols in a program like Microsoft Word, she has to wade through a series of menus and change the program settings.

A WYSIWYG editor can also be used in computer programming. Many modern HTML editors have WYSIWIG capabilities. This allows the user to edit or even create a web page without having to write code. In this way, computer programming can be accessible even to people with little experience with computer programming languages.

The way a WYSIWYG editor works is by allowing the user to physically manipulate graphic elements on the screen. As elements are moved and changed, the WYSIWYG editor changes the code to reflect the changes on the screen. This way of creating a web page is much easier for the inexperienced, but can be frustrating for those users who do know programming languages.

Many professional and experienced programmers have expressed concerns about WYSIWYG code. The code created by WYSIWYG editors tends to be more convoluted and less elegant than code written by hand. This is partly because the code comes in pre-written chunks that have to be pieced together by the program to reflect the screen. A WYSIWYG editor also allows for less flexibility than a traditional code editor because the user can only change what the programs allows him or her to change.

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Discussion Comments
By Logicfest — On Dec 13, 2014

@Soulfox -- In those cases, the Internet can be your best friend. If you need to learn how to achieve something through HTML, there are plenty of spots on the Internet that will allow you to look up how to do certain things.

Let's say you need to resize a picture. You hunt up the HTML code for that and -- boom! -- you can code that. Tomorrow, you need to make your font a very specific color. Hunt up that HTML code and -- boom! -- you now know how to do that.

The point is that you would not have wandered into the world of HTML had your WYSIWYG editor had worked 100 percent effectively. No, you had to look up some things and learn a bit of code while you were at it. Ultimately, that is a good thing.

By Soulfox — On Dec 12, 2014

@Logicfest -- But a major problem with all that WYSIWYG stuff when it comes to people generating content on the Internet is that it does not always work as expected. What do you do, for example, if you place a picture in one of those editors and it is larger than you want it to be? In some cases, you will have to fix that through some coding, but what happens if you don't know enough HTML to fix the problem the WYSIWYG editor has let through?

By Logicfest — On Dec 12, 2014

@Terrificli -- True, and WYSISYG has also helped people create Websites with ease. Bloggers, in particular, are able to format things easily with a WYSIWYG interface and concentrate on creating content rather than coding. That has made it perfect for people who have something to say but are not exactly programmers.

By Terrificli — On Dec 11, 2014

This is essential for word processing. Anyone remember the good old days (bad old days) where the screen didn't reflect the font, formatting or anything else about the document? You just got a bunch of native ASCII letters with some notations made about what the document was supposed to look like.

Back then, you often had to run off a couple of drafts to make sure you got the formatting right.

WYSIWYG solved that problem for good.

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