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Think you know how to copy and paste?

Any fool will proclaim ‘I know how to do that!’, but do you know how to maximise the potential of the keyboard to speed up the copy and paste task? Many of you may know some of the shortcuts below, but most of you won’t know all of them, so join me as I explain some handy tools to make your work sail past.

Perhaps one of the most used innovations that computing has introduced to simplify our lives is the ability to copy and paste. By ‘copy’ we mean selecting blocks of text, images, files, folders, links and any other piece of data or information we can get our hands on and copying it to a ‘clipboard’. The clipboard sits within the computer’s memory and stores the item you’ve copied there.


‘Pasting’ means retrieving that item and inserting it into wherever you’ve placed the cursor. We can paste almost any item into anything, but sometimes it wo’t work. If the item you’re trying to paste is incompatible with the application that receives it you’ll get an error message. For instance, you’ll have difficulty pasting a file or image into a text box or text document.

I didn’t cotton on to doing this effectively until many years of laboriously clicking ‘edit’ on the toolbar, then ‘copy’, then moving to a new document, then clicking ‘edit’ on the toolbar again, then ‘paste’.

This isn’t something that is restricted to MS Word. It can also be used in email applications such as Thunderbird, Lotus Notes and Outlook, browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer, spreadsheets such as Excel, in fact, most any application you can think of.

Today there are many ways of speeding up this process, some of which take a little practice but once mastered will increase your productivity no-end. The first is to use the keyboard shortcut for selecting, copying and pasting. Useful shortcuts for selecting text in Microsoft Office applications, and many others, include the selecting the entire document by clicking CTRL+A and the ‘F8’ extend mode:

F8 Increases the size of a selection (press once to select a word, twice to select a sentence, and so forth)
SHIFT+F8 Reduces the size of a selection
ESC Turns the extend mode off

Another way is to select a block, or blocks, of text while holding the SHIFT or CTRL key down. Placing the cursor at the head of the block of text you want to copy, holding the SHIFT key down then putting the cursor at the end of the text will select the block between. You can continue this procedure with separate blocks by following the same procedure but by holding the CTRL key down instead.

Once you’ve selected the text, image, or file the next step is to copy it to the clipboard. Rather that using the ‘copy’ icon or option in the ‘edit’ menu, or even right-clicking on the selection and choosing ‘copy’, use the keyboard shortcut CTRL+C. Similarly, for cutting, use ‘CTRL+X’. Bingo, though you’ve not seen it, it’s there waiting to be pasted elsewhere.

The next stage is to move to the application you want to paste it to, and rather than using the mouse to open the application from the taskbar there are a number of methods to shorten this procedure. Without doubt the best option is to have two monitors to work with, so you can see what you’re doing in both applications and if you find yourself doing this regularly you might like to think about this option. Seeing both applications on one screen is still possible by either resizing the windows with the mouse or right-clicking on the taskbar (the grey bar at the bottom) and choosing one of the ‘Tile windows’ options.

Either way, or even if you don’t want to see both applications simultaneously, you can use the ALT+TAB keys together to move from one open application to the next.

From there you’ll need to find the place in the document or folder to paste the information you’ve copied. The cursor will normally be in the place you last left it, so if that’s the spot, then no problem. Use ‘CTRL+V’ to paste the contents of the clipboard where the cursor is.

Other common navigational tools to use are the TAB key to move right or down from one field or cell, and the up, down, left and right arrows to move from character to character or line to line. Here are some other shortcuts for the serious keyboarders:

CTRL+LEFT ARROW One word to the left
CTRL+RIGHT ARROW One word to the right
CTRL+UP ARROW One paragraph up
CTRL+DOWN ARROW One paragraph down
SHIFT+TAB One cell to the left (in a table)
END To the end of a line
HOME To the beginning of a line
PAGE UP Up one screen (scrolling)
PAGE DOWN Down one screen (scrolling)
CTRL+END To the end of a document
CTRL+HOME To the beginning of a document

Another useful keyboard button is the ALT key. If any character is underlined anywhere, for instance on a menu bar, hold the ALT key down and then the letter that’s underlined and the action ought to take place.

To learn more keyboard shortcuts, or to get more help from a particular application, often the keyboard shortcut is mentioned beside any given option in the menu bar. Otherwise, go to the ‘Help’ file and search for ‘keyboard’ shortcuts.

Once you’ve learnt these tips, you’ll find yourself using them with increasing regularity, and your productivity will increase accordingly.

3 replies on “Think you know how to copy and paste?”


ok i know how to copy which is Ctrl+V but then how do you paste on the keyboard after that!?
thats all i wanna know!

cheers hun!

I have a problem with the copy and pasting situation. I am copy student pictures from one area and then pasting them to another, which makes sense. I have to paste usually three pictures in a row then go to the next line and continue pasting three across. I have a problem getting to the next line. I have to leave enought spacing inbetween each row of student pictures to type in their first and last names. I try using the tab and the arrows to get to the next line. It doesn’t work. sometimes I wind up deleting what was just pasted. I am not to good at this. I have never needed to use this at any job but now I have to.
please advise

Patrick Says, Thanks Handyman. I’ve tried everything. I hope this works. I’m going to try to print this page for future reference. you’re the man, peace.

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