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Copy and Paste

by Bill Santry
February 25, 2003

You've been there before. Someone has sent you an e-mail and includes a web page address that is roughly three thousand characters long and will not work as a link. Are you supposed to sit and write down that long string of web babble, then type it in by hand when you open your web browser? What a chore.

What about moving large chunks of text from one document to another in your favorite word processing program? How about moving files from one folder to another, or from one disk to another when clicking and dragging is inconvenient? All these problems and more can be solved with a few mouse clicks or keystrokes. It's called Copy and Paste, and it is very easy and can be very helpful.

Working through an example:

Let's take the first example offered above: copying a web page address and pasting it into your browser. Perhaps your friend forgot the "http://" that must proceed the ubiquitous "www" in a URL. The point is, you don't want to copy the address down and retype it again to see the web page. Here's what you'll need to do:

  • Place your cursor directly in front of (to the left of) the first letter in the web page address,
  • Hold down the left mouse button and drag the cursor to the end of the address. The address should now be highlighted. Release the mouse button,
  • Hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard and press the C key. This will "copy" the highlighted information. Release the C and Ctrl keys,
  • Now switch to your web browser window, (the window that displays web pages),
  • At the top of your browser window you will find a long space labeled "Netsite" or "Location" or "Address" and it may already contain an address (i.e.,
  • Place your mouse cursor in the long space and delete the address (if any) found there,
  • With the space empty and a the cursor blinking, hold down the Ctrl key and press the V key. This will paste the address from your e-mail message into the blank space. Release the V and Ctrl keys,
  • Hit the Enter key and your browser should take you to the page your friend wanted you to see (assuming the address was correct to begin with).

What Happened?

When you held down the Ctrl and C keys, you requested that Windows copy the highlighted information to a "clipboard". The clipboard's sole function is to store text or images which are then available to be pasted into other applications. Pressing Ctrl-V simply moves the text or data from the clipboard to the selected program (web browser, word processor, graphics program, you name it). The data will stay in the clipboard until you copy something else or shutdown your computer. In this way, you can paste the same text or image again and again.

Many programs have Copy and Paste options built into the menu bar, usually under the Edit menu. These actions can be done by clicking on Edit and choosing Copy or Paste with your mouse. You must always select the information you wish to copy before selecting Copy or pressing Ctrl-C.

But Wait! There's More:

At times, you may wish to move text or images from one section of a document to another section or to a completely different document without leaving the text or image in its original place. This is called Cut and Paste and works in exactly the same way. Be aware, however, that you cannot always Cut information that you may be able to Copy. If you are not allowed to edit a document (i.e. a web page or e-mail you have received), you will not be able to Cut from it.

The directions are identical, except that the Cut command requires you to press Ctrl-X instead of Ctrl-C. As with Copy, most applications have a Cut option under the Edit menu.

Copy/Cut and Paste is most useful in word processing, allowing users to move blocks of text from one section to another (or one document to another) with ease or Paste the same text over and over again without typing. Let's hear it for keyboard commands!

Copy/Cut and Paste is also useful when moving files around on your PC. You can select any file in Windows Explorer, Copy or Cut it, select a new location for the file and Paste it into place. Copy-Paste will make a duplicate of the file in the new location while Cut-Paste will move it, so be sure you know which action you want to perform. This can be much easier than trying to align your windows so you can click and drag the file from location to location, whether it is moving between folders or between the A: and C: drives.

Be Careful Out There:

As fun as it may be to shoot files from one end of your computer to another, try not to tamper with files that you are unsure about. They are usually in a certain folder for a good reason. But if you have files that you work with regularly, using Copy/Cut and Paste should help you out and make some mundane duties a little easier.

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