Some words in information technology have historic roots that can guide us to their correct use. “Templates” is one such word and technology. Templates are found in word processors, such as Microsoft Word, in publishing programs like Scribus, and in website building tools like WordPress.
So how do I use a template without destroying it?
Only edit the template if you want that change to occur on all future copies made from the template. So a letterhead template would contain the sender’s logo, address, and phone number, and might contain the start of the letter, e.g. “Dear “. After that, the template is blank. You make a new letter by copying the template using the program’s tools, and complete the letter on the copy, not on the template. Note that, once you have made your copy using the template, editing the copy does not alter the template. You might think of it like a photo copying process. The original in the scanner does not get changed when you write on the copy. And editing the template, with perhaps a change of address, does not change all the previously made copies.
Some programs, like MS Word make using a template obvious. On starting File–>New you are presented with lots of templates to choose from, with photos of the templates visible. Others, like MailChimp for mass mailings, or Libre Office Writer, seem to me to hide the obvious.
Templates help you keep your masters separate from your copies. Copy and paste can destroy a template if you save a change back to the template meant only for a copy. Templates avoid that.
Replication is not a human invention: think of DNA. But digital replication is a lot of what computers are about, since the copy loses no information from the original, and the replication is endless (unlike a life).
Replication terminology includes Styles, Defaults, Copy and Paste. Replicators that never seem to release their copies are called themes, or styles. Understanding the “release point”, or the moment that changes to the templates and copies are divorced from each other is very very useful. Paragraph Styles, for instance, can be made local to the paragraph, or to the document, or global to the word processor, at your whim. Local and Global are added to the list of terms. “Default” is another word recycled from other uses. Default in information technology is “a preset setting or value that will be used if no choice is done.” And of course computers are programmed to watch the entries we put in web forms, and to save our entries in hidden templates that get used the next time we are asked, for example, for our street address. Objects and Instances are Templates and Copies in prgramming, but we won’t go there in this article.