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THE TGB ELDER GEEK: Select, Cut, Paste and Copy

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I am pleased and delighted today to announce that Virginia DeBolt is joining the Time Goes By family of contributors with a new, regular column, Elder Geek. It will appear twice a month and as she explains below, Virginia is here to clear up the mysteries of computers and the web and give you some tips and tricks to make it all easier. Sometimes these will be the basics and sometimes it will be more complex information.

Virginia has written two how-to books on technology, contributes tech articles around the web and on her own tech blog, WebTeacher. She also keeps a writing blog, First 50 Words. You can find out more about Virginia in her TGB bio here.

Although Virginia cannot answer individually, your questions and suggestions for possible inclusion in future Elder Geek columns are welcome. You will find a link to email them at the bottom of this, Virginia’s first Elder Geek column.

Greetings to the readers of Time Goes By. Ronni asked me to join the fray here and contribute some geeky tips for her readers. I'm happy to do that and hope you learn something new and useful from my columns.

Very few elders are what we call the kids today: digital natives. Digital natives are those people growing up now who use a computer every day as an indispensable part of normal life. They absorb its intricacies through osmosis.

Elders, on the other hand, may have been presented with a computer late in life. Maybe someone taught them how to turn it on and how they could get email and photos. That may be where the lessons stopped.

For that reason, we're going to devote many of the Elder Geek columns to helping you learn the basics. The first is how to select, cut, paste and copy.

You can highlight (or select) text in anything you are typing: an email, a Word document, a web page or a blog post you're writing. In this image, you see some words I've selected highlighted with a blue background in a blog post. The highlighting isn't always blue, but it does show you exactly what you have selected.


To select something, position the cursor at the beginning. Click to position the cursor where you want it, then continue to hold down the left mouse button and drag with the mouse to highlight and select everything you want. Stop dragging and release the mouse button.

This can be tricky for various reasons. Sometimes you want to select so much that you scroll down the page and it's hard to stop scrolling where you want. Or you may have mobility problems controlling the mouse.

There's a different way to highlight that may be easier. Position the cursor at the beginning by clicking and releasing the mouse button. Next press the Shift key and hold it down. Now find the end of what you want to select and click to place the mouse cursor in that position. Everything from where you first clicked to where you last clicked will be selected. Release the Shift key. That's called shift-clicking.

When something is highlighted, whatever you do next is applied to the selected material. If you press the space bar, everything that was highlighted turns into a space. If you press the delete key, everything that was highlighted is deleted. If you type “oops" on the keyboard, everything that was selected turns to the word oops.

If you do something to highlighted material that you didn't mean to do, you can undo it. Most software has an Undo command in the menu under Edit. Some software only lets you undo the last thing you did, some software will undo several times. Think of Undo as the oops key. To undo using the keyboard type Ctrl-Z (press both keys at the same time). On a Mac, undo is Cmd-Z. The image shows Undo in the software I'm using. Your software may not look exactly the same, but it will be in the Edit menu.


When something is selected, you can Cut it. Cut is under the Edit menu too. You can also cut using the keyboard commands Ctrl-X (Cmd-X on a Mac).

Cutting isn't the same thing as deleting. When you cut something it disappears, but it is not deleted. It is temporarily stored in a little memory bank on your computer called the clipboard. The clipboard only remembers one thing. So if you cut something, it will be on the clipboard until you use it or put something else on the clipboard in its place.

What's the purpose of storing things you've cut in the clipboard? It's because you may want to paste it somewhere else. Which brings us to pasting.

I do a lot of cutting and pasting. My first draft is always a mess. I have to move things around into better order. Moving sentences, paragraphs, even a whole lot of paragraphs, is just a matter of cutting and pasting.

You highlight the material to select it. You cut it. Then you move to the place in the document where you want to paste. Click once to insert the cursor in the position you want. Then paste. Paste using the Edit menu or by typing Ctrl-V (Cmd-V on a Mac) on the keyboard.

You don't have to paste within the same document. It's possible to cut something from one document and paste it into a completely different document.

Select the material you want to copy. Choose Copy under the Edit menu. To copy with the keyboard, type Ctrl-C (Cmd-C on a Mac). You'll notice that the highlighted material stays put. But everything you just copied is now in the clipboard.

Move to the place where you want to paste the copied information. This can be just about anywhere. You can copy out of Word and paste it in an email. You can copy something off a web page and paste it in Word. You can copy from one place to another in the same document.

When you've found the place where you want to insert the copied material, you paste. Paste using the Edit menu or by typing Ctrl-V (Cmd-V on a Mac) on the keyboard. The original material is unchanged, but a copy is now pasted into the new location of your choice.

Copied material is saved on the clipboard. That means you can only copy one thing at a time. Copy and paste, then copy and paste the next thing. Whatever you last cut or copied is what is on the clipboard.

Another helpful item in the Edit menu is Select All. Use it to select everything in a whole document. The keyboard command is Ctrl-A (Cmd-A on a Mac). You can copy a whole Word document and paste it into an email or a blog post by selecting it this way.


If you're steady with the mouse, there's an advanced technique that you may like. Once you have something selected, you can use the mouse to drag it into a new spot. This is faster than cutting and pasting.

Select the material you want to move. Click anywhere inside the highlighted area with the left mouse button and continue to hold the button down. Use the mouse to drag the selected material to the new location. Let go of the left mouse button. The material drops into the new spot. This is called drag-and-drop. This technique is used to drag and drop anything.

All the tips you just learned involve the Edit menu. Depending on the software you use, you may find other helpful menu commands in the Edit menu as well. Don't be afraid to explore them and find out what they do.

You can email your questions or suggestions here for future Elder Geek columns. Virginia cannot answer individually, but she may use them as topics for future posts.

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, You Show Me Yours and I'll Show You Mine from kenju. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]


I have emailed a link to your column to one of my 65 year old friends who has had a computer for a few years, but has never gotten much further than emailing and using Word occasionally. I tried to explain cutting/pasting to her over the phone, but she got confused. I am a "right clicker" rather than one who uses the keyboard commands, so maybe your thorough explanation will get through to her.
I did get her to join Facebook!! :-)

Thank you so much for these clear instructions. Like tnwoman I have a friend who can use this info. She has a mac so this is very helpful.

Thanks so much for this wonderful new column. I am not a computer native but have been using a mac for over fifteen years now. I can always use some new tips and loved learning about "shift clicking." Keep up the good work. I wish I could get my mom to get a computer, but at least she is finally using her cell phone.

Good to see you here, Virginia!!!! I look forward to your wisdom!!!

Excellent addition, Ronni, and just the right person to do it.

I wish I'd had your help 5 years ago when I was trying to learn all the tricks of the trade! LOL

Finally, someone who knows how to write understandable computer instructions!

Virginia will be a wonderful addition to Time Goes By. I've met her, she's helped me with my own computer problems, and best of all, she doesn't talk "computer speak."
Welcome, Virginia
P.S. I copied and pasted my URL address to this comment.

Thank you, Virginia. Ditto on the comments of Frances Ellen and everyone else. Great information for this "ludite".

Thanks for the warm welcome, everyone. Just let Ronni know if there's some topic you'd like to see addressed by the TGB Elder Geek.

Thank you very much for these clear instructions. As tnwoman I have a friend who could use this information. She has a mac so this is very helpful.Finally, someone who knows how to write computer instructions understandable!

Thank you so much for these clear instructions. As tn woman I have a friend who could use this information. She has a mac so this is very useful.

Good to see you here, Virginia! I await your wisdom!

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