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How to Copy, Cut, and Paste in Windows

By on December 27, 2004 | Last Updated: December 13, 2012 | Read 460,494 times.
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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Introducing the Windows Clipboard
  3. How to highlight text in a document
  4. How to select files and folders
  5. Copying Text
  6. Cutting Text
  7. Pasting Text
  8. Cut, Copy and Paste with Files and Folders
  9. Conclusion

Introduction

A basic, but important, concept to understand when using a computer is cut, copy and paste. These actions will allow you to easily copy or move data between one application and another or copy and move files and directories from one location to another. Though the procedures in this tutorial are considered to be basic concepts, you would be surprised as to how many people do not understand these essential features. Even more importantly, once you understand these fundamentals you will be able to use this knowledge on almost any computer operating system as long as you know the corresponding keys that are used for these features. For the purpose of this tutorial I will cover how to cut, copy and paste with the Windows operating system. Other operating systems, such as Linux, Unix, and Apple support these concepts as well but will not be discussed in this tutorial.


Introducing the Windows Clipboard


Windows has a feature called the Windows Clipboard. The clipboard gives Windows users the ability to store information in memory and than retrieve that information for later use. The cut, copy and paste functions rely on the clipboard in order to work. The process of placing data into the clipboard is know as copying or cutting. The process of retrieving the data from that clipboard and placing it into another location is called pasting. We will cover the specifics on these actions in more detail later in the tutorial. For now it is important to understand that the clipboard is used to contain the data that you want to paste into another location. If there is no information contained in the clipboard, then you will not be able to paste anything. Any data that is stored in the clipboard via a copy or cut command will stay there until it is overwritten by another copy or cut command. When you paste that data, the data is not removed from the clipboard, and can be pasted over and over as many times as wish. The data in the clipboard will be erased, though, when you shut down or restart your computer.


How to highlight text in a document


Before you can copy, cut, or paste text data you must be able to highlight, or select, the text that you want to perform the action on. This is called highlighting and allows you to select all the information in a document or certain portions of it. Once the text is highlighted you can then copy or cut that information depending on your needs. An example of what highlighted text looks like is below:

 


Figure 1: Example of highlighted text

 

There are four standard methods used to highlight text and they are as follows:

Use your mouse
Using your mouse to select text could not be any easier. Simply find the location you would like to start selecting from and place your mouse cursor there. Then press and hold the left mouse button and drag the cursor to the last area you would like to highlight. You will find that as your are holding the left mouse button and dragging the mouse cursor, the text between where you first pressed the button and where you dragged the cursor to will now be highlighted.

Use the applications edit menu to select all
Windows applications that support copy and paste will usually contain an edit menu. Under this edit menu you will see an option to Select All. When you click on that menu option the entire contents of the file you are working for will be highlighted.

Right click your document
Many programs give you the ability to select all the data in your document, as described above, by right-clicking on the document and then clicking on Select All. the entire contents of the file will now be highlighted.

Use your keyboard
You can use your keyboard to select text by using the arrow keys while holding down the shift key. Place your cursor at the location you would like to start highlighting and then press and hold the shift key while you move your cursor with the keyboards arrow keys. As long as you are holding down the shift key, as you move the cursor with the arrow keys the data that you are moving the cursor over will become highlighted.
 
Pressing Control+A
When you press Control and then the letter A on your keyboard at the same time the program will select all the data in the document similar to how Select All works in the previous methods.

Now that you know how to highlight text, you should practice the the art of highlighting text. You can do this by opening Notepad and typing in a few lines of text. Then practice the different methods of highlighting text. To open Notepad you can double-click its icon found in the Start Menu under the Accessories submenu.

 

How to select files and folders


Just as you can highlight, or select, text you can also highlight files and folders for use with the copy, cut, and paste commands. Selecting files and folders work a little differently then text though. When selecting text you must select the text so that the highlighted text is next to the other highlighted text. Files and folders, on the other hand, can be selected as seen fit and the files do not have to be next to each other. You can see an example of this in the figure below:

 


Figure 2. Select Files and Folders


As you can see from the image above, files and folder can be selected as needed and do not have to be right next to each other.

To select files or folder you can use the following methods:

Drag your mouse around the desired files or folders
You can select multiple files and folders to work with by dragging the mouse cursor around these files. Simply left click in an empty space next to a folder, and while keeping your left mouse button pressed, drag your mouse to create a square or rectangle around those files or folder you want to select. As you drag the mouse, those items contained in the box will become selected. When you are done, release the left mouse button.

Use the applications edit menu to select all
Windows applications that support copy and paste will usually contain an edit menu. Under this edit menu you will see an option to Select All. When you click on that menu option all the files in the folder you are looking at will become selected.

Use the Shift key
The shift key is used to automatically select all the items between one selected item and another. Click once on a file or folder to select it. Then press and hold the shift key, and click again on another item. You will now see that all items between the first selected one and the next selected one will be highlighted.
Use the Control
The control key is used to choose individual items to be selected at the same time. Simply hold down the control key and, with that key held down, use your mouse to left click on other items to select . As long as the control is kept pressed down, you can choose as many individual items you would like to select at the same time.

To test this, open your My Documents folder and practicing selecting files and folders.

 

Copying text


What if you were working on a word processing document and you need to take text that is located in another document and add it to the current document. You could manually type the information found in the original document into the new document but that could take quite a long time. Luckily for us, operating systems give us the ability to copy text from one document to another document called Copy. When you copy highlighted data, this data is stored in the clipboard until you are ready to paste that data into another program

To copy something you must first highlight the text that you would like to copy using one of the methods described above. When when you have the text highlighted that you would like to copy, you can copy it to the clipboard in one of three ways:

  • When the text is highlighted you can press the Control button and the C button at the same to copy the data.
  • Right-clicking on the highlighted text or files and then clicking on Copy.
  • If there is an Edit menu you can click on Edit and then click on Copy.

Once you use one of these methods a duplicate of the highlighted text will be placed in the clipboard allowing you to paste it in another document or application.

Cutting text


Cutting is very similar to copy in that they both place the highlighted item into the clipboard for future pasting. The difference is that you when you Cut the highlighted text, it will remove, or cut, the highlighted text from the original location and place it into clipboard. It is therefore important to be careful when using this command as it is possible to lose data if you mistakenly cut the data from the document and then save the file.

To cut text you must first highlight the text or data that you would like to cut using one of the methods described above. When when you have the text highlighted that you would like to cut, you can cut it to the clipboard in one of three ways:

  • When the text is highlighted you can press the Control button and the X button at the same to cut the data.
  • Right-clicking on the highlighted text and then clicking on Cut.
  • If there is an Edit menu you can click on Edit and then click on Cut.

Once you use one of these methods a copy of the highlighted text will be placed in the clipboard and the highlighted data will be removed from the document. It is important to note that the text will only be removed from a document if that document is editable. For example, you can not cut text from a document set to read-only or a web page because it is not editable.

 

Pasting text


Now that you know how to Copy and Cut data from a document and have it placed in the clipboard, you need to learn how to retrieve that data and place it in your document. Once data has been copied or cut from a document, you can then paste it into another document, or the same document, by retrieving that information from the clipboard using the Paste command.

Simply move your cursor to the location where you would like the data to be pasted into your document and then choose one of the methods for pasting the data.

  • When the cursor is at the location where you would like the data to be pasted press the Control button and the V button at the same to paste the data.
  • Right-clicking on the document and clicking on Paste.
  • If there is an Edit menu you can click on Edit and then click on Paste.

After you use one of the above commands the data contained in the clip board will now be pasted into the document.


Cut, Copy and Paste with Files and Folders


It is also possible to use the same key combinations and commands on files and folder. Simply select a file(s) or folder(s) and cut or copy it. Then you can select another location to paste it to. If you paste a copied file or folder in the same location that the original resides in, Windows will automatically append Copy of in front of the file name. For example if I copy and paste the file test.txt to the same directory the original is in, it will paste the file as a new file called Copy of test.txt.

When cutting files and folders, a duplicate of the file or folder will placed where you paste it to and the original will be deleted. Do not worry, though, as the original document you cut will not be deleted until a valid copy is pasted elsewhere.

Conclusion


Now that you know how to cut, copy and paste text and files from one location to another you have a powerful tool at your disposal. Now you can quickly take information from another document and paste it into a document of your choice. You also have the ability to cut or copy files from one location and place them into another location.

If you have any questions please feel free to post them in our computer help forums.

--
Lawrence Abrams
Bleeping Computer: Basic Operating System Concepts Tutorial
BleepingComputer.com: Computer Help & Tutorials for the beginning computer user.

 

 

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