Top 10 surprising TextEdit for Mac tips

To think of TextEdit as just a document viewer or note taker is to do it a serious disservice. Here are 10 things that might just surprise you about this powerful app.

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  • 1 Search for tabs & paragraphs
  • 2 Change TextEdit page colour
  • 3 View word and character count in TextEdit
  • 4 Insert pictures and movies
  • 5 Switch to page view
  • 6 Replace text within a selection
  • 7 Jump up and down a number of lines
  • 8 Copy and paste like a pro
  • 9 Change tab stops
  • 10 Change dropdown font sizes
  • More stories
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Search for tabs & paragraphs

TextEdit’s search feature (tap Cmd+F) appears not to let you search for tabs or paragraph breaks.

There is a way. Click the magnifying glass to the left of the search field, then click Insert Pattern. This will cause a small menu to appear on which you can select from a range of invisibles.

The Insert Pattern menu also lets you insert wildcards, which are symbols that stand-in for any letter, word or number.

To close the search field, just tap Esc when the cursor is within it.

See also: OS X Mavericks review

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TextEdit’s search feature (tap Cmd+F) appears not to let you search for tabs or paragraph breaks.

There is a way. Click the magnifying glass to the left of the search field, then click Insert Pattern. This will cause a small menu to appear on which you can select from a range of invisibles.

The Insert Pattern menu also lets you insert wildcards, which are symbols that stand-in for any letter, word or number.

To close the search field, just tap Esc when the cursor is within it.

See also: OS X Mavericks review

 

Change TextEdit page colour

To change the page colour, click Format > Fonts > Show Fonts. Then in the dialog box that appears, click the fourth icon from the left on the top icon row and choose a colour from the new dialog box that appears. Note that when you print the background colour won’t be applied.

Read next: How to recover lost TextEdit files & documents on Mac

 

View word and character count in TextEdit

One missing feature most requested by TextEdit users is word count. Adding it to TextEdit is extremely easy via a little AppleScript.

Open the AppleScript Editor program, which you’ll find in in the Applications list of Finder. When it starts click the New Document button, then paste in to the main editing area what you see below:

tell application "TextEdit"

set wc to count words of document 1

set cc to count characters of document 1

if wc is equal to 1 then

set txt to " word and "

else

set txt to " words and "

end if

if cc is equal to 1 then

set txtc to " character."

else

set txtc to " characters."

end if

set result to (wc as string) & txt & (cc as string) & txtc

display dialog result with title "Word and character count" buttons {"OK"} default button "OK"

end tell

On the toolbar click the Compile button, then click File > Save. When the Save As dialog box appears, type Shift+Cmd+G and in the new dialog box, type ~/Library/Scripts.

Type Word Count into the Save As name field, and click the Save button.

Switch back to the AppleScript Editor window, and tap Cmd+, (comma) to open its preferences dialog box. Click the General tab and put a tick alongside Show Script Menu in Menu Bar.

Close AppleScript Editor. From now on, whenever you want to perform a word/character count within TextEdit, click the small script icon at the top right of the screen near the Wi-Fi icon and select the Word Count option.

 

Insert pictures and movies

You can insert pictures into a TextEdit document, and even audio/movie files. Just drag and drop them, or copy and paste from another app. However, there’s an important caveat. The entire document will be converted to RTF with Graphics file format (.rtfd). This is only supported by TextEdit and Pages, Apple’s own word processors. It isn’t supported at all on Microsoft Windows.

Additionally, you won’t be able to resize or otherwise edit the media files you insert, so you’ll have to ensure that pictures are the correct size before inserting them.

 

Switch to page view

If you’re attempting to layout a page with precision then viewing the page margins – known as page view in Microsoft Word – is very useful.

TextEdit lets you do this although the feature is hidden away. Start by switching to Rich Text mode (Shift+Cmd+T), and then click Format > Wrap to Window. A grey border will appear around the document, which represents the document boundaries.

Setting margin sizes isn’t possible within TextEdit although our sister site Mac OS X Hints recently detailed a hack that lets you do so. 

 

Replace text within a selection

Sometimes you might want to replace a word within some selected text, such as a paragraph, rather than within the entire document. At first glance TextEdit doesn’t appear to offer this function but it’s just hidden. Start by bringing up the Find feature by tapping Cmd+F, or clicking Edit > Find. Then put a tick in the Replace box. Type the word/phrase you want to search for, and its replacement below. Then click and hold the All button. A submenu will appear almost instantly offering to let you Replace All In Selection.

 

Jump up and down a number of lines

If you’re a keyboard person this tip’s for you: jumping a certain number of lines up or down in a TextEdit document can be done via a hidden feature – just tap Cmd+L, then type +5 to move the cursor down five lines from its current position. Alternatively, typing -5 will move it up five lines. Any number of lines works but note that TextEdit considers a paragraph to be a single line – no matter how large.

To jump to the top of the document, type 1.

 

Copy and paste like a pro

TextEdit lets you use the clipboard for more than copying text. For example, say you have different tab stops set at different points within a Rich Text document (tap Cmd+R if the ruler isn’t already visible), and you want to copy an entire set of tabs from one place to another. Place the cursor within the line where the tab stops are set, tap Ctrl+Cmd+C, then position it in the line where you’d like the tabs to be applied, and tap Ctrl+Cmd+V.

Similarly, you can copy text styling from one place to another. Place the cursor within a word or line that’s formatted in the way you want to copy, and then tap Alt (Option)+Cmd+C. Then highlight the text where you’d like the formatting to be applied, and tap Alt+Cmd+V.

 

Change tab stops

Talking of tabs, the default tab is a left justified stop every centimeter (if you can’t see the ruler tap Cmd+R). You can add new tab stops by simply clicking within the ruler, or right-clicking and selecting from the menu. You can delete existing tabs by dragging them outside the window, but what isn’t obvious is that you can change existing tab stops to right align, centre align and decimal. Just double-click the tab to cycle through the choices. The tab stop icon will change accordingly.

 

Change dropdown font sizes

You can make additions to the default list of font sizes (12, 14, 24 etc) – useful if you frequently set a font size of 15 point, for example. Beware that the changes detailed below are reflected in TextEdit but this is a system-wide change that applies to all Mac apps.

To make the change, switch to Rich Text mode (Shift+Cmd+T), then open the Fonts palette by tapping Cmd+T. Click the cog icon at the bottom left of the palette, then select Edit Sizes from the menu that appears. Type a figure into the New Size box (only whole numbers work) and click the plus icon to add it to the default range that appears in the font size dropdown menu. To delete an existing option, select it within the list and click the Minus button.

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