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The secrets of OS X's text tools

Kirk McElhearn | March 11, 2014
When you write in a word processor or text editor on OS X, you might want the app to do more than record your words as unadorned plain text. In addition to specifying formatting (such as font style and type size), you may want to insert things like smart (or "curly") quotes and live, clickable links. You may want your spelling and grammar to be checked as you type. And you may wish to insert certain bits of text automatically, to save time.

When you write in a word processor or text editor on OS X, you might want the app to do more than record your words as unadorned plain text. In addition to specifying formatting (such as font style and type size), you may want to insert things like smart (or "curly") quotes and live, clickable links. You may want your spelling and grammar to be checked as you type. And you may wish to insert certain bits of text automatically, to save time.

While some word processors and text editors have built-in tools to do all of the above and more, others don't. That's why it's a good thing that OS X has its own system-wide text-manipulation tools, which allow you to substitute and transform characters and words in a variety of ways and which are available in many apps where you have to type text. But these settings aren't necessarily easy to find, and it's not always obvious what they do.

You'll find these features in all Apple apps where you can type text — including Pages, Mail, and TextEdit — as well as in many third-party apps; notably, they aren't available in Microsoft Office. In OS X apps that do support these text manipulation features, you can see the available tools by right- or Control-clicking in an app's editing window to summon a contextual menu. Some, but not all, of these settings are also available from the Edit menu.

You're probably already familiar with the Cut, Copy and Paste options, but you may not have explored the menu items below that section. Different apps have different menu items in this menu; I'm only going to look at the ones that affect text.

Font

You can choose the font for your document (Show Fonts), as wall as set formatting, such as Bold, Italic, etc., from the Fonts menu. In some apps, you can also use styles — preset combinations of font, size and formatting, which you can save and apply easily — with some text editors. (For example, some years ago I explained how to use styles with TextEdit.)

Spelling and Grammar

You may prefer to leave spell-checking on all the time, or you may prefer to spell-check your documents only when you've finished writing. Either way, you can choose the Spelling and Grammar menu to turn on or off spell checking and grammar checking. If either of these is turned on, there will be a check mark in front of their sub-menu items. Just choose on to toggle it on or off.

Substitutions

The Substitutions menu contains a powerful set of options that you can use to control certain elements of your text's display.

 

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