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What is Visual Editing?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Visual editing is a form of computer text editing often used in programming that displays changes immediately through a visual interface, rather than relying on line changes and a delayed display of changes. It is a type of editing commonly found in modern computer programs, including word processing and document creation programs, as well as simple text programs like plain text editors. Unlike line editors, visual editor programs allow a user to more quickly see what is being done and what changes he or she is making to a document. Visual editing is often associated with computer programming and creation of programs, though it is also often used in making text documents for numerous other reasons.

Two common types of text editing are visual editing and line editing, and though line editing was especially common in the past, visual editing has become somewhat more popular in recent applications. This is because much of line editing’s appeal was in the limitations of hardware prior to the modern proliferation of personal computers and similar devices. Before modern computers and display monitors were used, most computer devices and text editors worked more like a keyboard with a printer connected to it. Input could be entered by a user, but there was some delay between what was entered and when the user would see it printed by the machine.

As modern computers and display monitors became the norm, however, an interface developed for immediate recognition between what a person typed and the data appearing on a monitor. This allowed for the development and popularity of visual editing programs that take advantage of this technology. Visual editing is what is commonly seen in most text editing programs, in which a user immediately sees a visual representation of input or changes made to text. These types of programs allow computer users to type on a keyboard and observe the text appearing or changing as he or she types.

Visual editing is now typically used in programming since it allows a programmer to see changes as they occur. If a syntactical error is made or the wrong key is pressed, the visual editor program immediately displays this mistake and it can be easier to catch before compiling and running a program. Visual editing is also quite helpful for writers and other users of word processing programs, as it allows the person to see grammatical mistakes or misspelled words more easily.

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Discussion Comments
By MedicineBall — On Jul 21, 2011

@zeak4hands - Visual editing was around back in the days of black and white monitors. The first computer I used when I was little had a monochrome monitor -- I still remember playing solitaire.

Note Pad was still able to edit text on screen and program websites. Word Pad was as complicated as it got when it came to text, because it had bold and italic.

Once color monitors came out, Paint became my favorite thing. You had a basic set of colors to pick from, but it was the only visual editor that didn't just do text. It amazing what the newest version of Paint can do. Ah, how times change.

By zeak4hands — On Jul 20, 2011

@MedicineBall - Very true about your computer's memory. Visual editing is the most useful type of editing in my opinion, but it takes a more powerful computer to be able to do it right.

Low memory programs like Windows Word Pad and Paint are very basic visual editors that have barely changed since they were made -- which is why they run so fast on new computers.

Another big improvement in computers came with higher screen resolutions. Bigger screens meant a bigger area to edit. It would be very hard to edit visually on a small resolution screen. Not to mention having color monitors – but let's not go back too far.

By MedicineBall — On Jul 20, 2011

@zeak4hands - dual core processors definitely helped, but I think RAM made visual editing possible too. Every time my computer's RAM gets low, it comes to a halt. I can't imagine trying to get it to do visual editing -- it just doesn't have the memory to do it.

As you said, there are tons of visual editors. Any imaging program is considered a visual editor, because you see your lines as you draw them.

By zeak4hands — On Jul 19, 2011

Visual editing for website design makes it easier to see errors -- but it also helps with picking the right colors. I don't like having to type in the hex code without seeing the actual color. With a visual editor -- also know as a "live preview" -- I can adjust the color until it's one that I want.

Visual editing is used in almost everything these days simply because it's easy to learn. You can actually see what you're doing as you do it! I think it's only possible in recent years just because it takes way more processing power than we had on our old computers. Hooray for dual-core processors.

By everetra — On Jul 19, 2011

I remember back the in the good old days of Unix. I used a line editor called Ed. It let you type a line at a time, in console mode (what we would compare to a DOS window) and you wouldn’t see any changes unless you requested them. It was most definitely not visual.

Times have changed and the visual editors have created a hundredfold boon in productivity for programmers in my opinion. I’ve moved over into Windows and now use the Visual Studio editions of C#, the free express versions, to do most of my programming.

As they say in the industry, with these editors what I see is what I get, whether I am doing console based programming or developing a complete Windows application with forms, buttons and menu items. Without visual editors, rapid application development would not be possible.

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