Cut, Copy and Paste howto use the Clip Board
From Here to There: Cut, Copy and Paste
This is the first in our series of essential skill lessons for the beginner level computer user. We’ll be covering topics and skills that many people take for granted. Our primary goal is to increase overall computer literacy. This lesson is tagged “Beginner”. Other lessons in this series will be tagged for their appropriate skill level, so you’ll be able to come back and find instruction appropriate for your skill level. If we cover something you already know, you probably have a family member, friend, or coworker who doesn’t. Share the article with them; they’ll thank you for it. This lesson is for Candace.
One of the most useful tools a computer offers is that of copy and paste, yet I discover many people I talk to don’t know how to do it, or have heard of it but aren’t aware of what it is. If this sounds like you, keep reading. Soon you’ll wonder how you ever lived without copy and paste.
What are Copy and Paste?
Copy and paste allow you to take text (or a picture, or virtually any object that supports the semantic) and move or duplicate it in another location. Think of it like cutting up a newspaper article with scissors and reassembling the pieces in a different order. In practice, it’s indispensable in word processing. I copy and paste the URL of websites I want to share with friends from the browser’s address bar to email messages.
When you copy or cut text, it is stored in a place called the Clipboard. The Clipboard is invisible and can only hold one thing at a time. If you copy some more text, it will replace whatever is already on the Clipboard. When you paste, whatever is in the Clipboard is inserted where your text cursor is.
What’s the difference between copy and cut?
When you copy, the selected text is duplicated onto the Clipboard. When you cut, the selected text is moved from where it is onto the Clipboard. Cut is only available in contexts where you can edit text, such as in a word processor or a form field. For non-editable text, such as this text you’re reading now in your web browser, only copy will be available.
That sounds great, how do I do it?
The first step is to indicate the text you want to copy. You may have noticed that when you put your mouse cursor over some text, the cursor changes shape from an arrow to a narrow vertical I-beam. If you haven’t noticed that, move your mouse cursor over the text of this paragraph and you’ll see what I mean. In text you can edit, like a word processing document or the web browser’s address bar, if you click the mouse when the cursor looks like an I-beam, it will move the text cursor to that location, so that you can type there.
If you click and hold the button down, and then drag the mouse, you’ll see that background of the text between where you clicked and where your mouse cursor has moved will change color, indicating that it is selected. You can experiment with the text of this article if you like. When you have selected the text you intend, release the mouse button and that text will remain highlighted.
Now it’s time to copy.
The screenshot above shows Notepad in Windows XP with some selected text and the Edit menu open. On a Macintosh it is extremely similar, except that the menu bar is along the top edge of the screen instead of inside the window as it is in Windows. Almost every application that has a menu bar at the top will have an Edit menu, and on the Mac, the Edit menu is a nearly universal feature of the menu bar. The three items in the edit menu that we’re interested in are Cut, Copy, and Paste. To copy, select Copy from the Edit menu. The Cut and Paste commands are accessed the same way.
To paste, place the text cursor in the location you want the contents of the Clipboard to appear by clicking in that spot with the I-beam mouse pointer, then select Paste from the Edit menu.
The Edit menu is not the only choice you have. These text operations are so frequently used that there are often three or four ways to do each, depending on the context. It’s up to you to decide which method works best for you; there’s no right or wrong way to do it.
Sometimes, the Edit menu is unavailable, such as when working in certain dialog boxes. In those cases you have a couple of choices. Right clicking on the selected text will usually make a context menu appear that contains the Cut, Copy and Paste commands. If the context menu isn’t available, you can use the keyboard shortcuts.
Many people find that the keyboard shortcuts for Cut, Copy and Paste are faster than using the mouse. The keyboard method pretty much always works, even when the menu based methods are unavailable. In Windows, Cut, Copy and Paste are Ctrl+X, Ctrl+C, and Ctrl+V, respectively. The Ctrl, or Control, key is on the bottom row of your keyboard. You probably have two, one on either side of the spacebar. Pressing Ctrl and X, C, or V at the same time causes the computer to Cut, Copy or Paste.
On a Mac, the Command key is used instead of the Ctrl key. The Command keys are directly flanking the spacebar (where the Alt key is on PC keyboards) and have the Apple logo and a sort of four sided cloverleaf glyph on them.
If you can’t remember the keyboard shortcuts tomorrow, they’re listed in the Edit menu next to the commands, as you may have noticed in the screenshot above. This is a good way to learn other keyboard shortcuts for other commands.
Copy and Paste in Other Contexts
Did you know that cut and paste are not limited to text? You can also copy and paste other sorts of objects. In Windows Explorer or the Finder on the Mac, you can copy and paste files from one location to another as an alternative to dragging them. This is handy when you can’t see the source and destination folders at the same time. Remember that copy will duplicate the file and cut will move it.
You can also copy and paste images or mixed text and images from one place to another. The main thing to remember when copying and pasting complex objects is that the source and destination have to be capable of containing the same sort of content. For example, Windows Notepad (pictured above) can only work with plain text. Nothing will happen if you have a picture in your Clipboard and you attempt to paste it into a text document in Notepad. On the Mac, if you copy a file into a text document, the name of the file will be pasted. This behavior can be unexpected or helpful, depending on the task you’re attempting.
That’s all there is to it! You now know the ins and outs of Copying, Cutting and Pasting. Once you incorporate this into your day to day computer use, I think you’ll wonder how you ever used your computer without it.Stumble It!