Some people are flawless typists, even applying formatting as they go along; the rest of us have to go back and select text to change it. Everybody knows the basics: double-click to select a word; drag across text to select it; or Shift-click to make a selection starting at the insertion point or to alter an existing selection. But learning a few more tricks can save you lots of time. These tips work in Apple’s Pages and TextEdit, as well as in Microsoft Word. Some of them even work in Apple’s Mail and Safari. (They all work in both Snow Leopard and Lion.)

Shift to select as you go

If you can move the cursor to any spot in your text using the keyboard, you can simultaneously select the text you pass over by holding down Shift as you move the cursor. So, using the left or right arrow key to move a character at a time as you press Shift lets you select one character at a time to the left or right; holding Shift plus the up or down arrow key lets you select upward or downward from the insertion point.

Grab the beginning, or the end

Do you hate your introductory text but find that you hit your stride in the middle of your essay? Press Shift-Home to select everything from the current cursor position to the beginning of the document and then delete it. Shift-End highlights everything from the insertion point to the end – so you can delete a weak conclusion.

No Home or End key on your keyboard? In Pages and TextEdit, press Shift-Fn-Left Arrow or Shift-Fn-Right Arrow to select to the beginning or the end, respectively, of the document. Word 2011 doesn’t support the Fn-Left Arrow and Fn-Right Arrow as substitutes for Home and End, and has mapped those combos to move the cursor to the beginning and the end of the current line. Also, the Fn key doesn’t exist on some older Apple keyboards.

Easily add to your selection

Double-click to select a word or triple-click to select a paragraph. Forgot to select something? In Word and TextEdit you can then Shift-click anywhere in the document to include additional complete words or paragraphs. This is particularly handy in Word, which lets you select a full sentence with a Cmd-click, so Shift-clicking lets you add complete sentences. (This doesn’t work in Pages.)

Select whole words from the keyboard

Did you know that you can jump to the beginning or end of a word by pressing Option-Left Arrow or Option-Right Arrow? Another Option-arrow press jumps you ahead or back another word. Add the Shift key to the mix (Shift-Option-Left Arrow or Shift-Option-Right Arrow), and you can select a word at a time and then use the keyboard to format it or delete it.

Choose noncontiguous text

Just as you can Cmd-click to select noncontiguous items in a Finder window or dialog box, you can select noncontiguous text with the Cmd key. Want to boldface various words? Just Cmd-double-click on each, and format them in one fell swoop. You can also Cmd-triple-click on noncontiguous paragraphs, or Cmd-drag to select various phrases.

You can do more than just format noncontiguous selections. Choose Edit > Copy (Cmd-C) to copy them, and when you paste them elsewhere (Cmd-V), they appear as a list.

Select a rectangular area

You can select a rectangular area of text anywhere – even in the middle of a paragraph – by pressing Option as you drag. This is incredibly handy when you’re working with tab-separated columns of text. You can select a column to format it differently (in italics, say), delete it, or move it.