What you see is what you get

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What you see is what you get is a common phrase often shortened to the acronym WYSIWYG (pronounced wizzy-wig) which simply means something it entirely straightforward. There is no hidden meaning, content, catch, etc., but everything about a certain item or topic can be seen and fully understood at a glance, and the end result will be the same as the work in progress. This term is usually used in reference to computing. Some programs are classified by some as "WYSIWYG," that is, easy to use and understand.

In addition to its general meaning in computer technology, it has a very specific and well-understood meaning in the context of document editors. In a WYSIWYG editor, what you see on the screen is exactly what the finished document will look like. You edit the document, by its appearance, in real time. If you want to indent a paragraph a little bit, you use whatever tools and icons the editor provides, moving the paragraph in or out until it looks the way you want it. When you want to get hard copy of the document, there are print commands for that. The printed page will look like what you saw on the screen. Microsoft Word, and similar editors, are examples of WYSIWYG editors.

In contrast to that, "markup" formatters involve editing a file, with an ordinary text editor such as Emacs, that contains "markup language" describing what the document will look like. That markup file then goes through a text formatter to produce the final formatted document. LaTeX is an example of this. It transforms the markup file, from the plain text editor, into a formatted document such as a pdf file. Markup editors give much more sophisticated control over the exact layout of the document, but they require a great deal of expertise to use.

Wiki page editing sometimes uses markup formatting and sometimes WYSIWYG. There are wiki systems that allow the user to switch between the two paradigms. The editors for Mediawiki web sites, such as Conservapedia, are markup editors. The text that you see when editing is in terms of a markup language, with angle-bracket commands, multiple quote symbols to get italics and boldface, and square brackets to get internal or external links. When you click "Show preview" or "Save page", the formatter turns your text into the finished page.


While the term is now commonly used in reference to computer programs, its appearance as a jargon term in the United States seems to come from a Flip Wilson act in the television show Laugh-In.[1]


  • A web designer program for example could be entirely drag-and-drop. Text and images are entered in a GUI and then the website is exported to look just the way it was show in the editor. This editor could be referred to as WYSIWYG.
  • A document, advertizement, or other production on a computer may look in print just as it did on the computer. The program which was used to make this production might be called WYSIWYG.[2]