A Little Something For Everyone - Four Mac Tips For Beginners

| Computing with Bifocals

I have never been a good speller. I don’t know if it is because I have a kind of brain damage from being a breach birth or if I’m just really lucky. The brain damage affects my ability to tell left from right and fear of having both my feet off the ground at the same time. I almost flunked PE in high school because I refused to dive into a swimming pool.

Whatever, I never won any of those spelling bees in school. For everyone who shares my spelling deficit there is a secret that a lot of people don’t know about. I just found out about it myself.

An Extra Spelling Aid in Your Mac

You can set some of your programs to correct words as you type. For instance in TextEdit, select Edit >Spelling and Grammar and put a check by “Correct Spelling Automatically”. You can do the same thing in Pages, Safari, and Mail, in Microsoft’s Office suite, and other applications, too.

But “Correct Spelling Automatically” only works if you can type in an entire word. What if you absolutely don’t have a clue how to get even close.

What I used to do is open Safari and go to Dictionary.com and click on Thesaurus and put in words that have similar meaning to try and find the correct spelling of the word I really wanted. Trust me when I say this can be very time consuming and frustrating, but it eventually works. Most of the time.

Here is the secret that you can use in any of the Apple apps (TextEdit, Pages, Mail, Safari).

Enter as many letters as you feel comfortable with and then hold down either the F5 key or Option-Esc. A list of words will appear. It may be a long list. If the word you want is there click on it and it will be entered in your document and you can keep on typing.

Here is an example. I need the word ‘attentively’. I type in ‘attent’ because I’m fairly sure that is correct. Then I hit Option-Esc. When I did I got the following list from which I clicked on my choice and kept going. I love this.

Option-Esc spelling helper

Keyboard Shortcuts Using the Control Key

Most beginners learn fairly quickly that there are shortcuts connected to the Command key. For example Command-A will select all, Command-C will copy highlighted information, and Command-V will paste information. 

But, there are some cool shortcuts associated with the Control key that are not so well known. These shortcuts can be equally helpful when you have a lot of typing to do. The following seem to me to be of general interest.

  • Control-A will move your cursor to the beginning of the paragraph. In this instance it would move it back to the word Control.
  • Control-E moves your cursor to the end of the paragraph.
  • Control-D functions as a forward delete. It deletes the letter to the right of the cursor.
  • Control-K deletes all text from the insertion point of your cursor to the right end of the line.
  • Control-O inserts a paragraph break. This is somewhat like hitting Return, but the advantage is that it leaves the cursor where it is in the text. So that you can break one paragraph into two and continue with a different ending to the first.

Sticky Notes  

Do you use Sticky Notes? It has been part of Apple’s operating systems for some time. The app works like paper sticky notes. Right now I have about 30 active notes. Some are tags that I have to use when I review products. Some are URLs that I occasionally need, some are even spelling words that I use frequently but can’t remember.  

I don’t keep them open. I “roll them up” like rolling up a window shade. To do that just double click on the top bar of the note. The information on that bar tells me what is contained in the note. I don’t even keep the app open. I don’t want all those notes cluttering up my work space. I just keep the icon for Sticky Notes on my Dock and open it whenever I need to check something.

Sticky Notes in “rolled up” mode

Here is a cool trick you can use with Sticky Notes. With Apple apps (Mail, Pages, Safari, iChat, and TextEdit, etc.) you can select a chunk of text and then choose “Make New Sticky Note” from the program’s Services menu. Sticky Notes will launch and create a new sticky containing your highlighted information.


“Make a new Sticky Note” option in TextEdit

If you create a Sticky Note first you can drag almost any kind of file into it for quick access. Even a Microsoft Word document. Even a Quick Time movie. Really.

TextEdit Font Choices 

Someone in a beginners class recently told me she preferred working with TextEdit because it was so easy to use, but she hated that she had to set the font every time she started a new project. She was making the mistake that most new computer users make. She forgot to set the preferences for her application the first time she used it. You will always find the application preferences listed under the application title in the menu bar.

TextEdit allows you to indicate the preferred font and the preferred size for all your documents. Select TextEdit > Preferences > New Document.

Setting font preferences in TextEdit

The difference between Plain text and Rich text is that “Plain text” has only the text of the document, without any formatting. “Rich text” also includes information about the document formatting, such as font, size, bold, italics, margins and so-on. Most word processing programs these days will read “RTF” - Rich Text Format - and format the document for you. 

To change the primary font and size for all your TextEdit documents, just select them as indicated from the Preferences setting and they will remain that way until you change them again. While you are there, check out the options and make those selections as well.

So, I you will find all these tips to be useful. The most important thing to remember is to set the preferences for all your apps. The tip I like best is the spelling tip.  I grin every time I use it.

You can find more of my tips in the publication listed below.


A compilation of tips for beginners can be found in my beginners manual Tips, Hints, and Solutions For Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With Leopard and Snow Leopard The entire Table of Contents and a sample page are available for free review for anyone who wishes to see them.

The first is the more traditional printed book format, spiral bound. Cost is US$17.15 each, plus shipping. All the illustrations have been printed in black and white to reduce the purchase price.

The second option is a PDF download version. This is the full version of the book available in the same format as that available in the free review The contents are hyperlinked from the Table of Contents for ease of location. This version is US$9.85. After payment has been verified the purchaser will be sent a URL where they can download of the document.

Anyone wishing to pay with a money order or cashier check may contact me through TMO at nancy@macobserver.com

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Didn’t know that TextEdit would do Grammar too.
Didn’t know you could adjust so much for the default settings
Thanks for the tips.
Hint: I set the font for 14 or 16 point and then I can edit the documents without my reading glasses. Makes me look younger LOL

Nancy Gravley

Thanks for the tips.

My pleasure, as always.

Lee Dronick

Thanks Nancy, those tips are useful even us seasoned Mac users.


Know what you mean about Stickies cluttering up the screen. My preferred method is to use the “Hide Stickies” and then just call it up when I need them!

Nancy Gravley

My preferred method is to use the ?Hide Stickies? and then just call it up when I need them!

Oh, that is faster.  Thanks.


Bless the trickster, fair Nancy
Such sneaky clicks come from thee.
A knave doth find lots of solace
With spelling’s tyranny flung below us.

There ain’t a lot to rhyme with solace, Nancy.


Love the F5 tip for spelling—it’s one I did not know.  Thanks.

To reciprocate, in most if not all apps, Dictionary opens if you place cursor on a word and press
    Control -  Command - D

Click More… at the corner of that little window for Dictionary to fully open—and with bigger fonts.

Command = the Apple key.

Lee Dronick

Bless the trickster, fair Nancy
Such sneaky clicks come from thee.
A knave doth find lots of solace
With spelling?s tyranny flung below us.

Oh Puck! You are on a roll today smile

Nancy Gravley

Bless the trickster, fair Nancy
Such sneaky clicks come from thee.
A knave doth find lots of solace
With spelling?s tyranny flung below us.

I search and look and search some more
to amaze and help even though it?s a chore
the major goal is not to bore
so I promise I won?t do poetry no more


the major goal is not to bore
so I promise I won?t do poetry no more

Nancy, that’s spectacular. Spelling Trickery was to be the theme with my composition class and your column with ideas on making life a little easier in the world of spelling is being used. The class began with the two poems and yours brought the house down. And the students are an older and wiser bunch. Well of course, spelling, even figuring how to give it its comeuppance electronically, gets sidetracked by the shaggy manipulators; they’re older teens and their powers of persuasion are relentless.

You, Sir Henry, someone else whom I’ve forgotten, Bosco and I have now contributed poems to TMO. What a classy site.

I trust the last line is poetic licence. There must be more from whence that came.

Lee Dronick

I trust the last line is poetic licence. There must be more from whence that came.

Once upon a time, back in the days of Apple II and PrintShop, I created a Poetic License document and had it displayed on my office wall. I should do that again, maybe more in the way of wallet sized driver’s license.

Sometimes the muses are with me and sometimes not,
but the importance of wordplay should not be forgot.

Another good use for Stickies is as a place for keeping passwords. Not important ones such as for online banking, but the ones needed to post on blogs or access news sites.

Nancy Gravley

I trust the last line is poetic licence.

Yes.  An inside joke with Bryan who knows how I feel about poor grammar.

If any of your students want to create any 4 line spelling poems I will post the best of them in my next column.


Thank you very much.
I have never used Stickies (as it’s apparently called now) in my 16 years of Mac use. But the single page of important notes I had used had grown too big to be easily scanned, so I now finally decided to use Stickies. It’s much easier to find something fast by location on screen etc.
Also the Ctrl-key shortcuts may be useful.



Hi Folks - this was a great tip on the text edit section.

But I could not find what “SMART COPY/PASTE” did - you set this in the NEW DOCUMENT preferences pane .

could some one help me by explaining if this is one you like or even don’t like!

Also, has anyone added to the standard substitutions list (like teh becomes the?) I am curious as to what you added!

Lee Dronick

But I could not find what ?SMART COPY/PASTE? did - you set this in the NEW DOCUMENT preferences pane .

could some one help me by explaining if this is one you like or even don?t like!

Smart copy and past automatically adds leading and following space characters. Say that you double click on a word, it highlights just that word, not the spaces before or after. Then you copy that word to paste it somewhere, you may have to edit to add spaces as appropriate, it is a little time saver. Give it a try.

Have a great day

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