- By Cary Neeper, Special to The Christian Science Monitor If you think you could use a personal computer in either your home or business but you are not sure why, the 60-odd-page ''How to Buy a Personal Computer'' and ''How to Buy a Word Processor'' Alfred Handy Guides are the most economical and best places to start. These authors provide direct, readable answers to the crucial question: What can a personal computer do for me? After all, for instant access to hard data, a card file is hard to beat. In ''How to Buy a Personal Computer,'' the author beginsdescribing the use of a calculator, then logically expandsadding the memory and storage capabilities of a computer. Terminology is clearly defined in parentheses and italics. The pamphlet gives the novice a workable vocabulary, and provides a comprehensive view of possible uses for business, home, or school. It also reviews the equipment and memory capability necessary for those uses, as well as practical tips on choosing. Once armed with a little vocabulary and a fair idea of how you will use a personal computer, you are ready to look for the specific equipment to do the job, perhapsexploring computer magazines. The 92-Page Buyers Guide in the October 1982 issue of Radio-Electronics magazine contains helpful tables of computer models listedprice range, but much of the writing is in technical jargon. It is available at $1.25 a copy through Gernsback Publications Inc., subscription office, 200 Park Avenue South, New York, N.Y. 10003. Look at a half-inch thick copy of Byte magazine, and you immediately discover it is for the experienced hobbyist. Popular Computing magazine advertises that it is ''. . . delivered in plain language.'' It carries product reviews, news briefs, and articlessuch famous contributors as Isaac Asimov. ''Personal Computing,'' a Hayden publication, has a mix of articles like ''Hard Disk Drives: Are They Worth the Price?'' that sound helpful, and articles on business and home uses. The ads are harder to understand, however. If you feel the magazines are too complicated and you still need more of the basics, there are other books you can try. Such books, written in clear English, include ''Computers for Everybody.'' This book, publishedDilithium Press, a publisher of many titles for the small-computer user, is primarily an informal buying guide and description of personal-computer uses. A short history, brief descriptions of hardware and some software, and a chapter devoted to publications are useful to the novice. A quick way to acquire a knowledge of computer jargon is to read ''A 60 -Minute Guide to Microcomputers,''Lew Hollerbach (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1982. 137 pp. $6.95). It reads like an explanatory dictionary, presenting new words in logical sequence. Also provided are checklists for evaluating hardware, and guides for setting up, beginning to use, and maintaining a computer. There's a penchant among some computer lovers to write satire. If you want some good entertainment while learning more vocabulary, you might want to try Peter A. McWilliams's ''The Personal Computer Book'' and ''The Word Processing Book: A Short Course in Computer Literacy'' (Los Angeles: Prelude Press. 281 pp. $9.95 each.). The books talk about applications and selection, and are richly and amusingly illustrated. Once past the beginners-book stage, delve into the workings of microprocessors and program languages. Such detailed understanding is not necessary for using a computer, but it can lead to tinkering, to programming for yourself or your business, and to more savings in cost and time. ''The Howard W. Sams Crash Course in Microcomputers'' claims to be written for everyone from engineers to consumers. Detailed material on computer language and microprocessors is presented clearly one paragraph at a time, with immediate feedback required from the reader. I found, however, that a dictionary, in particular ''The Penguin Dictionary of Microprocessors''Anthony Chandor (New York: Penguin Books, 1981. 184 pp. $5.95) was both helpful and necessary to adequately appreciate phrases such as integrated circuit and transducer, used in the first pages. A good alternative for business people not interested in electronics or programming is the in-depth study of computer-business applications, ''So You Think You Need Your Own Business Computer.'' This well-organized book is a complete guide for businesses planning to install computers. Extensive worksheets and checklists with step-by-step instructions and rules of thumb help determine needs analyze the risks, costs, and benefits of using computers; and select software and hardware. The book also helps you deal with monitoring the installation, operation, and performance of a computer or computer system.
How to Buy a Word Processor, by Steven Manus and Michael Scriven. Sherman Oaks, Calif.: Alfred Publishing Company Inc. 62 pp. $2.95. Computers for Everybody, by Jerry Willis and Merl Miller. Beaverton, Ore.: Dilithium Press. 262 pp. $7.95. The Howard W. Sams Crash Course in Microcomputers, by Louis E. Frenzel Jr. Indianapolis: Howard W. Sams & Co. 264 pp. $19.95. So You Think You Need Your Own Business Computer, by William E. Perry. John Wiley & Sons. New York, N.Y. 201 pp. $16.95.