Improving Your Text Wrangling

One of the most common things we do on our computers is manipulate text. E-mail, chat windows, full-on word processing... it's everywhere. In this tutorial, I'll drill through some techniques that, when mastered, will help you pound out that text faster than ever.

Background: The Keyboard

Note: I'm not familiar with Mac text shortcuts, so this tutorial is aimed at PC users.

Since the invention of the mouse, many people have done anything they can to stop using the keyboard. The reality is that the keyboard can still be the fastest way to do a lot of what we do on our computers. My advice: don't be afraid of it... embrace it! You'll be glad you did.

The Basics

I still see people poking around with their mouse to move the text cursor. Sometimes it is the fastest, but many times, these methods will win:

  • Arrow keys
    Using the arrow keys is the most basic way to move the text cursor. They do exactly what you would expect.
  • Home and End
    Home and End move the cursor to the beginning or end of the line, respectively. They're great for quickly zipping from one side to the other.
  • Page Up and Page Down
    These keys move the cursor one full page up or down.

By practicing these basic keys and committing them to muscle memory, you will already be on the road to faster text manipulation.

The Control Key

Control + Arrow Left and Right

The control key can be used in combination with the left and right arrow keys to move the cursor "one whole word" to the left or right. It's much better than hitting an arrow key 13 times just to get past the word "phenylalanine."

Control + Arrow Up and Down

In certain word processing programs (Word, for example), the control key can be used in combination with the up and down arrow keys to move the cursor "one whole paragraph" up or down.

Control + Home and End

The control key can be used in combination with the Home and End keys to move the cursor to the beginning or end of whatever container it lives in. It's a great way to quickly jump to the beginning or end of a document.

Control + Page Up and Page Down

The control key also modifies the Page Up and Page Down keys, although the program you're working with can interpret these keystrokes in different ways. In Word, for example, holding control and pressing the Page Up or Page Down keys moves the cursor to the top of the previous or next page, respectively.

The Shift Key

In Windows, during selection of text, icons, items, etc, the shift key means "everything between the last point and this point." You may already know that you can hold shift to select a long list of items in a window, but did you know you can do the same thing with text?

To learn to use the Shift key, use your other tricks outlined above to move the cursor around, but hold Shift at the same time. Just remember, it's like holding two ends of a string, and everything in between gets selected. The first end of the string is where the cursor was when you first pressed and held the shift key. The other end of the string is where you move the cursor while holding the shift key down.

For example, if your cursor is at the beginning of a line of text, you can select the whole line of text by pressing Shift + End. Conversely, if you're at the end of a line of text, you can select the whole line by pressing Shift + Home. You're just stretching that string from one point to another, and selecting everything in between.

To go further, try the "whole word" or "whole paragraph" modifiers that the Control key allows, and add the Shift key. This way, you can select words one whole word or paragraph at a time. You could do so by first holding Shift and Control, then pressing the left, right, up, or down arrows. It's easier to understand once you do it yourself, so just give it a try!

The last items I'll share are the "select everything from here on" and "select everything up until here" tricks. Press Shift + Control + End to select "everything from here on" in a container, and press Shift + Control + Home to select "everything up until here." By looking at the key combination, it should make sense, given the explanations of the functions of each key above.

Have fun, and practice with diligence!

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