Computer basics - cut and paste and beyond


2013/07/18

There are few things that have astonished me more than finding people who do not know how to copy text from one place to another. This very basic computer skill - "cut and paste" is usually something they've heard of, but they don't know how to do it.

It astonishes me mostly because I probably cut and paste dozens of times per day, maybe even hundreds of times.

Are my needs that much different? Sure, I'm a writer and a programmer, so perhaps I have a bit more need than others, but my wife does neither of those things, yet she also copies text and links almost every time she sits down at her computer. It seems really hard to imagine how anyone would not need this ability.

And yet, I keep finding people who will laboriously retype when there is no need to do so.

I also find people who are not aware of third party tools for advanced copying/pasting but who could make very good use of them.

Basic cut and paste (Microsoft)

First off, most of the time you won't be "cutting", you'll just be copying. You can't "cut" text out of this paragraph you are reading now, but you certainly can copy it. Your browser almost certainly has a way to help you with that, too: if you click on the "Edit" menu, you'll see choices like "Cut", "Copy", and "Paste.

If those are greyed out, it's because you haven't yet selected anything. We'll get to that in just a minute.

Internet Explorer users may not see an edit menu. If you don't see it, look for the "Tools" menu on the right, click that and choose "Menu Bar" - your browser will then have these extra menu choices.

Tools menu old Internet Explorer

More modern versions of Internet Explorer don't have that Tools menu. Instead, there is a "Gear" icon, but that doesn't turn on the Menu Bar.

If you don't see a "Tools" menu but do see that Gear icon, hold down your "Alt" key to toggle the Menu bar on.

Tools menu modern Internet Explorer

Windows 8 and Metro View

I have not yet been able to see any way to get an "Edit" menu here. You do have the option to switch to "Desktop View" and use the "Alt" key toggle there.

Note that you won't see that black menu bar until you right click on the Metro screen.

Metro Internet Explorer

Using the Edit Menu

If you just click on the Edit menu, you might notice that most of it is greyed out - unusable. The "Cut", "Copy", and "Paste" choices are there, but you can't use them.

Greyed out menu

That's only because you haven't selected any text yet.

Use your mouse to position the cursor right at the very beginning of this paragraph. Click the left mouse button down, and then drag to the right without releasing the click. - Do you see how the text you are moving over turns blue? That's to show that you've "selected" it.

If you let go of the click you've been holding, the text stays blue - it is "selected". Now click on the "Edit" menu again and you'll see that "Copy" has come alive. Choose that and you will have "copied" your selected text.

It stays copied

Here's the neat thing. That text stays copied. You can switch to some other application, open a new tab or window, or even close down Internet Explorer entirely and that text will stay ready for you to use somewhere else.

By the way, you don't need to close Internet Explorer just because you want to use Outlook or some other application. Just go to your Start Menu or minimize IE and click on a desktop Icon. The only reason you'd need to close IE first is if your computer is very low on memory (RAM, not disk space). See my Adding Memory article for help with that.

Go ahead, open up your email and start typing a message. Whenever you want, go up to the Edit menu and you'll see "Paste". Click that and the text you copied will instantly get pasted in.

If you don't have "Edit"

You don't need the Edit menu to paste. Just hold the Control key and press "V". The text gets pasted in.

You also didn't need that Edit menu to copy the text originally. You could have just selected the text and used Control-C (hold Control, press "C"). That would have copied it just like the menu did.

Another way to copy

When something appears as a hyperlink like this link to some special things to know about cutting and pasting in a DOS command box, there is an easy way to copy the link.

You could click on the link to open it and then, after selecting the address from the Address Bar, use Contol-C to copy it. You select it the same way - click at the beginning, don't let go of the click, drag to the right. When you have it all, release and hit Control-C.

Quick tip - if you do a fast triple-click on the address it will all be selected automatically. You have to be fast - if the third click isn't fast enough, only part of the address will be selected. With a little practice, you'll find this is the quickest way to copy the link for a page you are looking at.

However, there is another way. Put your cursor on the text, and right-click your mouse. A menu pops up, and "Copy Shortcut" is one of its choices (it might be "Copy Link Address" if you are using another browser).

You could then paste that into an email or wherever else you wanted it. This also works for "Mail-to" links.

Not using Windows?

It's basically the same. For Mac, use the "Command" or "Apple" key. Command-C copies, Command-V pastes. Linux works just like Windows (although it adds some extra mouse tricks also). See Wikipedia's article for more.

Undo and Redo

If you accidentally delete text instead of copying it, you can put it back instantly with "Undo".

Let's say you are typing an email and you highlight some text and accidentally hit the backspace key or start typing again - poof! - everything you highlighted is gone! Don't panic - on Windows, just hold down your Control Key and then hit Z. Your text comes back! On Mac, it's the same idea, but it's Command-Z.

Both Windows and Mac also have Redo, and both Undo and Redo can work more than once. Watch this video to learn more.

Advanced Pasting

So you copied something, used it and then copied something else. But then you need that first thing you copied again. Too bad, it's gone - one copy/paste at a time is all you get. You could open up a text editor and paste everything there that you might want again - you'd go back to that to re-select text.

There are easier ways. These are "clipboard managers" and are easy enough to find with a Google search.

On my Mac, I use Jumpcut. Linux has Klipper (KDE) and Glipper (Gnome). I've used "Ditto" on Windows but there are many more also. All of them maintain a history of things you have copied and allow you to easily bring them back to be pasted again.

I'll describe Jumpcut here, but most of them have similar features.

You can move down the stack using the right arrow, down arrow, or "V" key; you can move up the stack using the left arrow, up arrow, or "Shift-V". Home moves to the beginning, and End moves to the end. Page Up and Page Down scroll through the stack more quickly. If you change your mind and decide not to paste the application, hit escape to make the bezel vanish. A "sticky bezel" preference is available; if it's selected, you must explicitly hit return or escape to dismiss the bezel.

I recommend full screen mode for the following video. Right Click, choose "Watch on Youtube" and go to full screen mode there to be able to see what's happening most clearly.


I would not want to be without Jumpcut. I cut and paste all day long.. the Command, "c" and "v" keys on my keyboard are extra worn from the use I give them. Jumpcut saves me so much time!

If you are a power user, you want one of these utilities. Some are simple, some are more powerful. For example,some have multiple buffers that you can switch between - you could keep your address and credit card info in one buffer set and use another for daily work. Take the time to search out a few to experiment with - I think you will be glad you did.



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Thu Jul 18 12:51:16 2013: 12236   Bryson

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In X11, you can usually just highlight the text you want and then middle click (scroll wheel click) the place you want that text and it does the copypasta without any extra steps.



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