Step-by-Step Instructions for Computer Basics

Learning computer basics is an important skill in today's fast-paced digital world. Understanding computer terms is a good starting point for beginners. After comprehending the terminology, beginners need to apply certain principles to become more efficient when using a computer. By following this basic strategy, novice computer users will increase their level of knowledge more quickly and easily.

Basic Computer Terms and Principles

Knowing some basic computer terms will help you understand language used when discussing computers. In general, data is information, in the form of files stored (saved) on a computer. Files are created by the software program used by the person operating the computer. The size of a file depends on how much information is employed to compose it--the more data or the more complex the formatting, the larger the file. A unit of measure called a byte or collection of bits is used to identify file size or hard drive storage. Today, the most common units of measure are kilobyte (smallest), megabyte, gigabyte, and terabyte (largest). For organizational purposes users save (store) files into folders and subfolders on the computer's hard drive, a concept similar to organizing hard copies into a filing cabinet.

Basic Hardware

The most basic computer terms are divided into two categories--hardware and software. The hardware is external and internal physical components, devices, or accessories. External hardware includes the display monitor, keyboard and mouse. Internal hardware consists of the motherboard, RAM memory, hard drive and central processing unit (CPU). The quality standards (specifications) of each hardware component affect how fast and how much data storage a computer system can handle. For example, a 350GB hard drive can store more data than a 150GB.

What Is It?

After acquiring the terms of computer hardware, develop a basic knowledge of each component. The display monitor is the visual screen similar to a TV. The keyboard--like a typewriter--features buttons to digitally communicate letters, numbers and symbols. A mouse is a device which helps navigate different functions while operating a computer. The motherboard, a major component of the internal hardware, is a square board made from a variety of material (fiberglass, epoxy resin, copper and others substances) and its main function is to generate power and communication among all the other parts of the computer, including devices plugged into the motherboard via slots and ports. The hard drive is the main storage component for the operating system, software programs and data files (for example, Microsoft Word documents) and also stores special software used for printers, scanners, routers and other external devices. Random Access Memory (RAM)--also referred to as read/write (not ROM read-only)--are bytes the computer uses to operate software programs. The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is a microchip that controls the interpretation and execution of instructions.

Basic Software

Software are programs written in a variety of computer coded languages. The operating system (OS) is the most important computer software--Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Linux are the major OS. Other software programs are used on computers to achieve a variety of tasks. For example, word processing software is used for simple writing or documentation. Different software is used to create spreadsheets, generate databases or produce slideshows with graphs and charts. Moreover, software programs also can provide multimedia features to achieve photograph, video, audio and special effects editing. Whatever your need, software programs are widely available to execute various tasks, from mundane to highly complex.


When buying a software program, check the system requirements listed on the package. Try to avoid downloading software purchases because, in most cases, they do not include the CD/DVD, which may be needed at a future time.

Determine your computer needs before purchasing. Understand the differences among the types of computers: desktops, laptops, notebooks, netbooks and mobile devices.

The most effective way to learn basic computer skills is by taking a class at your local library, reading information, viewing tutorials, asking questions, and most of all, sitting down at a computer and practice, practice, practice. Soon your learning curve will change from beginner to intermediate to advanced.