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A quick look at Word 2007 and 2003 shows that it is possible to assign a keyboard shortcut to a style, so that you can apply styles as you type. (I haven't checked OpenOffice etc.) There are also keyboard shortcuts for ad-hoc formatting - Ctrl+B for Bold etc.
In a text based environment it is logical to apply styles and formatting as you type.
In a graphical environment it is more efficient to focus on the content without worrying about the format - letting the creative process flow. When the text is on the page you can then grab the mouse and apply your styles. This also has the added benefit of allowing the hands to rest from typing while using the mouse.
Different techniques for different environments.
I know about the keyboard shortcuts to apply Bold, Italic, Underline… but it's very limited, since that's all you can do while typing. I want more.
I didn't know about Word 2003 and 2007. That's interesting. Thank you for the info. Unfortunately, I don't know of a standalone version for OS X. I use Pages. At least, I can use multiple selections to apply styles. But the problem is that you have to go back anyway to apply your styles, when it could be done during the creative process (I rest my hands enough while I'm thinking about how to translate my ideas to the paper, no need to have a mouse party for that ;-).
In fact, we don't process words. We create documents. And we know beforehand what we're going to do. Hence, the first thing the application should ask us is "What kind of document do you want to create now ?" Then "What do you want to do ?" (waiting for instructions in command mode). I want a more interactive application, and I think there is too much unused potential in word processors as we know them.
LaTeX, ConTeXT, all the TeX derivatives and LyX (document processors) are better than word processors. The ideal for me would be a LyX, but one you could say what you're doing without having to use the mouse, in the flow of the creative process : a LyX with a command mode, WYSIWYG ! This is my idea of the perfect word, or better said document processor.
Now, it's probably a stupid idea : I have never met someone agreeing with me, or showing the slightest interest for such an application !