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How to cut, copy and paste: A beginner’s guide

Cut, copy and paste. You’d think a process that’s been in the common computing vernacular for more than 40 years would ring a bell with anyone who has ever touched a computer. Although popularized in their modern form during the mid-’70s, the fundamental operations remain some of most convenient and time-saving actions to date, allowing users to transfer text and data from one source to the next on a myriad of devices ranging from the computers to smartphones. Whereas copying creates an exact duplicate of the text or object you wish to replicate within your computer’s temporary memory — leaving the original completely intact — cutting will essentially remove said content from the webpage or document and temporarily commit it to the system’s memory. It’s a simple process that can be undertaken  through a variety of methods, and though you can’t necessarily cut content without administrator privileges, nearly all objects and items can be copied with a few simple clicks of the mouse or keyboard. Afterward, you can freely paste the content in a text document, folder or other destination of your choice.

Here’s our beginner’s guide on how to cut, copy and paste on Windows and Mac OS X using the mouse, main application menu bar and several keyboard shortcuts. Also, check out our breakneck guides on how to take a screenshot on PC and how to take a screenshot on Mac OS X for more basic computing functions. Plagiarism has never been so easy.

Skip ahead to how to cut, copy and paste in Mac OS X.

Windows Banner copy

Not all cutting, copying, and pasting is created equal. However, although different formats require different methods for executing the task, each will produce identical results. It’s simply a matter of personal preference and convenience, whether you want to perform the operations using the main application menu bar, your mouse or multi-button keyboard commands. The exact wordage might differ slightly depending on the application you’re using and which version of Windows your computer is running, but they’ll likely be close enough to our guide that you should have little understanding the gist the process.

Using the mouse

Step 1: Highlight the content — Properly selecting the content you wish to reproduce is the first step when cutting, copying or pasting. If you’re looking to copy and paste an image, right-click the image while viewing it and select Copy image to duplicate and save the image to your clipboard. If you’re looking to copy and paste text, left-click and a drag your mouse cursor over the portion of the document you wish to highlight. For folders and other items, simple left-click the item once or hold down the “CTRL” key before left-clicking multiple items. Alternatively, left-click and drag a selection box around multiple files or hold down the shift button and left-click the first and last items in a set to highlight an entire range of content.

Image copy grumpy cat

Step 2: Copy or cut the content — Once the content you wish to cut or copy is highlighted, right-click while hovering over any portion of the chosen content and select Copy or Cut — or similar commands thereof — from the resulting drop-down menu. As previously mentioned, most images simply require the user to right-click an image and select the copy or cut option without highlighting the image. 

Text copy paste

Step 3: Paste the content — Regardless of your method of copying or cutting, place your cursor in the location you wish to paste the content, right-click and select Paste from the resulting drop-down menu. 

Using the menu bar

Step 1: Highlight the content — Properly selecting the content you wish to reproduce is the first step when cutting, copying, or pasting. Although entirely dependent on which application you’re utilizing, many word processors and other software programs feature options for performing various editing functions from directly within the toolbar. If you’re looking to copy and paste text, left-click and a drag your mouse cursor over the portion of the document you wish to highlight. For folders and other items, simple left-click the item once or hold down the “CTRL” key before left-clicking multiple items. Alternatively, left-click and drag a selection box around multiple files or hold down the shift button and left-click the first and last items in a set to highlight an entire range of content.

Highlight example

Step 2: Copy or cut the content — Once the content you wish to cut, copy or paste is highlighted, click the Edit or Organize menu — or similar menu thereof — from within the main application toolbar and select the Copy or Cut command from the resulting drop-down menu. Some applications, such as those bundled in the Microsoft Office suite, might alternatively display scissors or similar icons within the toolbar instead of text options.

Willamette Week Music Listings Copy Example

Step 3: Paste the content — Regardless of your method of copying or cutting, place your cursor in the location you wish to paste the content, click the Edit or Organize menu once again, and select Paste from the resulting drop-down menu.

Using keyboard commands

Step 1: Highlight the content — Properly selecting the content you wish to reproduce is the first step when cutting, copying, or pasting. If you’re looking to copy and paste text, left-click and a drag your mouse cursor over the portion of the document you wish to highlight. For folders and other items, simple left-click the item once or hold down the “CTRL” key before left-clicking multiple items. Alternatively, left-click and drag a selection box around multiple files or hold down the shift button and left-click the first and last items in a set to highlight an entire range of content.

Hightlight example keyboard commands

Step 2: Copy or cut the content — Once the content you wish to cut, copy or paste is highlighted, hold down the “CTRL” key and press either the “C” or “X” keys to copy or cut content, respectively. Though the keyboard command for copying and cutting content is fairly universal, some software feature program-specific macro commands or shortcuts that may interfere with Windows’ native keyboard commands. If in doubt regarding the proper key combination, look up the command functions from directly within the application’s help menu or on the Web.

Step 3: Paste the content — Regardless of your method of copying or cutting, place your cursor in the location you wish to paste the content, hold down the “CTRL” key and press the “V” key.

Mac OS X Banner copy

Windows and Mac OS X undoubtedly feel like the different operating systems they are, but not so much when it comes to cutting, copying, and pasting. Although executing the simple operations will inherently vary depending on which application and content format you’re utilizing, each will produce identical results. The methodology merely relies on your preference to use the mouse, the main application menu bar, or either of the multi-button keyboard commands. The precise wordage may vary slightly from one application to the next, along with which incarnation of Mac OS X your computer is running, but directions are close enough to our guide that you should have little understanding the gist the process.

Using the mouse

Step 1: Highlight the content — Properly selecting the content you wish to reproduce is the first step when cutting, copying, or pasting. If you’re looking to copy and paste an image, control-click the image while viewing it and select Copy Image to duplicate and save the image to your clipboard. If you’re looking to copy and paste text, click and a drag your mouse cursor over the portion of the document you wish to highlight. For folders and other items, simply click the item once or command-click each individually to add multiple items in succession. Alternatively, click and drag a selection box around multiple files or hold down the shift button and click the first and last items in a set to highlight an entire range of content.

Copy Example Boston album cover

Step 2: Copy or cut the content — Once the content you wish to cut, copy or paste is highlighted, click while hovering over any portion of the chosen content and select Copy or Cut — or similar commands thereof — from the resulting drop-down menu. As previously mentioned, most images simply require the user to control-click an image and select the copy or cut option without highlighting the image.

Text copy paste example

Step 3: Paste the content — Regardless of your method of copying or cutting, place your cursor in the location you wish to paste the content and select Paste from the resulting drop-down menu.

Using the menu bar

Step 1: Highlight the content — Properly selecting the content you wish to reproduce is the first step when cutting, copying, or pasting. If you’re looking to copy and paste an image, control-click the image while viewing it and select Copy Image to duplicate and save the image to your clipboard. If you’re looking to copy and paste text, click and a drag your mouse cursor over the portion of the document you wish to highlight. For folders and other items, simply click the item once or command-click each individually to add multiple items in succession. Alternatively, click and drag a selection box around multiple files or hold down the shift button and click the first and last items in a set to highlight an entire range of content.

Hightlight example text

Step 2: Copy or cut the content — Once the content you wish to cut, copy, or paste is highlighted, click the gear icon or Edit menu — or similar menu thereof — from within the main application toolbar and select the Copy or Cut command from the resulting drop-down menu. Some applications, such as those bundled in the Microsoft Office suite, might alternatively display scissors or similar icons within the toolbar instead of text options.

Mac OS X copy content

Step 3: Paste the content — Regardless of your method of copying or cutting, place your cursor in the location you wish to paste the content, click the gear icon or Edit menu once again, and select Paste from the resulting drop-down menu.

Use keyboard commands

Step 1: Highlight the content — Properly selecting the content you wish to reproduce is the first step when cutting, copying, or pasting. If you’re looking to copy and paste an image, control-click the image while viewing it and select Copy Image to duplicate and save the image to your clipboard. If you’re looking to copy and paste text, click and a drag your mouse cursor over the portion of the document you wish to highlight. For folders and other items, simply click the item once or command-click each individually to add multiple items in succession. Alternatively, click and drag a selection box around multiple files or hold down the shift button and click the first and last items in a set to highlight an entire range of content.

Hightlight example text

Step 2: Copy or cut the content — Once the content you wish to cut, copy, or paste is highlighted, hold down the “command” key and press either the “C” or “X” keys to copy or cut content, respectively. Though the keyboard command for copying and cutting content is fairly universal, some software feature program-specific macro commands or shortcuts that may interfere with Mac OS X’s native keyboard commands. If in doubt regarding the proper key combination, look up the command functions from directly within the application’s help menu or on the Web.

Step 3: Paste the content — Regardless of your method of copying or cutting, place your cursor in the location you wish to paste the content, hold down the “command” key and press the “V” key.

Tips and tricks on how to cut, copy and paste

Additional pointers on using such basic computing functions may be overkill, but knowing too much is often better than too little (at least when it comes to computers). Below are a few bits of clarification and several tips on how to make the most of one of the most beloved operations in the history of computing.

  • Select all content at once — Most application menus have an additional option for selecting all content on page or within a file, typically accessible alongside the cut, copy and paste options. However, you can also select all items on a page or within a folder by holding down the “CTRL” key and pressing the “A” key in Windows, or by holding down the “command” key and pressing the “A” key in Mac OS X.
  • Folders retain files when copied — Copying an entire folder, executable the same way as copying a single file, will also copy all contents of said folder in addition to the folder itself.
  • Drag and drop — Most content can also be cut or copied by either right-clicking (Windows) or single-clicking (Mac OS X) highlighted content, holding the mouse button down, and dragging the item to a new location prior to releasing the button. If prompted, select the Copy Here or Paste option from the resulting drop-down list.
  • Cutting is permanent — Copying merely duplicates content, but cutting essentially deletes the content permanently. Know the difference, and when in doubt, copy the content and delete the original later if need be. 
  • Paste again and again — Copied or cut content will remain in your clipboard until replaced or you shut down your computer, whichever action comes first. Therefore once copied, you can continually paste the same item as many times as you’d like.

So did our guide help you with copying, contenting and pasting content? Still have questions? Let us know in the comments below.

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