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Robin Williams Explains How to Use TextEdit

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Beloved author Robin Williams tells you everything you need to know to get the most out of TextEdit, the free word processing application that ships with your Mac.
This chapter is from the book


Learn how to open Microsoft Word documents and save TextEdit files as Word docs

  • Find and replace words or phrases
  • Create favorite styles for quick formatting
  • Take advantage of the “Complete” feature
  • Turn on typographer’s quotes
  • Become familiar with tabs and indents
  • Create lists and simple tables
  • Create live web or email links
  • Select non-contiguous text
  • Print page numbers

TextEdit is a small yet surprisingly powerful word processor. Use it for writing memos, letters, diaries, novels, grocery lists, memoirs, or any other text documents. In TextEdit you can create simple tables and automatically numbered or bulleted lists. You can put shadows on type, insert images, search and replace text, and more. But it’s not a full-blown word processor such as Apple’s Pages or MarinerWrite ( Although TextEdit can’t do all the fancy things a big word processor can, it’s excellent for many projects.

You’ll find TextEdit in your Applications folder. If you use it regularly, drag its icon to the Dock.

If you’ve never used a word processor before and you don’t know how to enter text, select text for formatting, cut/copy and paste, etc., please read The Little Mac Book first! This chapter assumes you know the basics of working in a word processor.

Read Microsoft Word Files


Do you work with people who send you Microsoft Word files, but you prefer to keep a Microsoft-free environment on your own computer? TextEdit can open Word files and save as Word files. Some of the advanced features will be missing, but this works great for basic text documents, including those with simple tables or numbered/bulleted lists.

If you don’t have Microsoft Word installed on your Mac, file names ending with .doc (which are usually Word files) automatically open in TextEdit when you double-click them.

To force a Word document to open in TextEdit (if it’s not your default), drag the file and drop it on the TextEdit icon.

(If the TextEdit icon is not in your Dock, it’s in the Applications folder. If you want TextEdit in the Dock, drag it from the Applications folder and drop it in the Dock.)

Change the default application to open Word files

If you own Microsoft Word and want your .doc files to open in Word, not TextEdit, you can change the default application:

  1. Control-click (or right-click) on the Word file icon to get its contextual menu.
  2. While the menu is visible, also hold down the Option key. This changes the “Open With” command to “Always Open With.”
  3. Choose “Always Open With.” If Microsoft Word is on your Mac, you’ll see it listed in the top part of the pop-out menu. Select it, and your .doc files will now automatically open in Microsoft Word.

Save TextEdit files as Word docs

You can save any TextEdit file as a Microsoft Word document to send to people who insist on that format.

To save a TextEdit file as a Word document:

  1. Go to the File menu and choose “Save As....”
  2. In the File Format menu at the bottom of the Save As dialog box, choose “Word 2007 Format (docx).” This automatically adds the Word extension, .docx, to the end of your file name.

    As you can see in that Format menu, you can also save your files in several other formats. Keep these other formats in mind!

    If you don’t see the extension at the end of the file name—and you want to—make sure there is no checkmark next to “Hide Extension,” circled below.

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