Basics of TextEdit in OS X Mavericks - dummies

Basics of TextEdit in OS X Mavericks

By Bob LeVitus

TextEdit is OS X Mavericks’ word processor and text editor that you can use to write letters, scribble notes, or open Read Me files. It’s not as sophisticated as Microsoft Word (or Apple’s Pages, Quark Xpress, or Adobe InDesign, for that matter), but you can definitely use it for light word processing and text editing.

TextEdit is capable of performing a respectable amount of text formatting, and it can even check your spelling and read text to you in a natural-sounding (if somewhat creepy) voice.

TextEdit supports images, too. Just copy an image from another program and paste it into a TextEdit document. Or you can drag and drop an image into a TextEdit document from many applications.

TextEdit can even open Microsoft Word documents (.doc and .docx files). This is fabulous if you don’t happen to have a copy of Microsoft Word on your hard drive.

So why would you need Microsoft Word?

The free word processor included with OS X Mavericks can not only open Microsoft Word files — even ones in the latest file format, .docx — but it can also modify and save them again, too.

Even if you don’t own a copy of Microsoft Word, you can open documents created by others using Word, edit, and resave them — all without having to buy your own copy of Word.

If you need Microsoft Word, you need Microsoft Word. You may use it as much as any other program, and there’s nothing else like it. Yes, it’s a bit bloated and may be overkill for some, but since TextEdit doesn’t support many of Word’s features — including but not limited to comprehensive style sheets, revision tracking, and embedded graphics editing and effects — TextEdit really is no replacement for Word.

For example, here is a Word document in TextEdit (left) and Microsoft Word (right).


Note the Reviewing toolbar near the top of the Word version and all the purple balloons that denote changed text; TextEdit offers no revision tracking or tools at all. To TextEdit’s credit, the two versions look remarkably alike otherwise.

So TextEdit lets you open, edit, and save Word documents, which may be all you need. If you think you can get by without a full-featured, professional-quality writing tool like Word, this freebie (TextEdit) may very well be the perfect word processor for you.


Like all apps included with Mavericks, you find TextEdit in the Applications folder at root level on your hard disk.

The Dock doesn’t have a TextEdit icon, but if you like it, use it regularly, or would just like to have it in your Dock, either drag its icon from the Applications folder to the left side of the Dock or launch it, right-click (or Control-click) its Dock icon, and then choose Keep in Dock.

How to create and compose a document in OS X Mavericks

In the Mountain Lion version of TextEdit, when you launched TextEdit, an Open File dialog appeared. Mavericks goes back to the pre-Mountain Lion way and displays a blank, untitled document.

So, if you’re following along at home, you should now have a blank document called Untitled on your screen. Let its name — Untitled — be a message to you that before you begin working on this document you should probably give it a name and save it to your hard drive. To do so now, choose File→Save or press Command+S.

As you work with the document, it’s a good idea to save it every few minutes, just in case. After you’ve named a file, all you need to do to save its current state is choose File→Save or press Command+S.

TextEdit uses Mavericks’ version support and autosave features, so your work is saved on the fly. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security; most third-party apps don’t support this feature. At least not yet

Now begin typing your text. When you type text in a word processor, you should know a few handy things:

  • Press the Return (or Enter) key only when you reach the end of a paragraph. You don’t need to press Return at the end of a line of text; the program automatically wraps your text to the next line, keeping things neat and tidy.

  • Type a single space after the punctuation mark at the end of a sentence, regardless of what your typing teacher might have told you. Word processors and typewriters aren’t the same. With a typewriter, you want two spaces at the end of a sentence; with a word processor, you don’t.

    Typewriters use fixed-width fonts; computers mostly use fonts with variable widths. If you put two spaces at the end of a sentence in a computer-generated document, the gap looks too wide.

  • Limit most documents to a maximum of two different fonts. OS X offers you a wide selection of fonts — but that doesn’t mean you have to use them all in one document.

To put certain characters in your TextEdit document, choose Edit→Special Characters (shortcut: Command+Control+Spacebar). This command opens the Character palette, where you can choose special characters such as mathematical symbols, arrows, ornaments, stars, accented Latin characters, and so on. To insert a character into your document at the insertion point, simply click it and click the Insert button.