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When it comes to native Mac apps, TextEdit is perhaps the most foundational. It’s a simple text editor that seems rather unexciting, especially with all of the other great text editing options out there. But TextEdit has a few tricks up its sleeve that make it a great option for all sorts of tasks.
It doesn’t have the power of its third party competitors, but don’t dismiss it out of hand! Let’s look at what this Notepad killer can do.
1. Version History
Because TextEdit is tightly integrated into macOS, it gives you the opportunity to keep track of the version history of your document. You can also do this with any type of file in iWork, too. Whenever you save your document, a new version is created, and macOS automatically saves once every hour.
To see past versions, go to File > Revert To and select Browse All Versions.
You’ll see the familiar macOS version browser, as if you were using Time Machine.
Just use the arrows on the right to scroll through until you find the version you want, and click Restore.
2. Advanced Search
You might think that TextEdit’s search is rather rudimentary. And on the surface, that’s true. Hit Cmd + F and you get a simple text search. But you can do a little more with the search than is immediately obvious.
Open the search bar with the keyboard shortcut, then click on the magnifying glass on the left. In the resulting menu, click Insert Pattern.
This lets you search for special characters like tabs, paragraph breaks, URLs, and more. Combine these with standard character-based search terms, and you can find anything you need.
3. Search and Replace
At first, it doesn’t look like TextEdit has a search-and-replace function. Which is too bad, because this is an extremely useful capability. But you actually can search and replace in TextEdit. You just have to know where to look.
Open up the search bar with Cmd + F again. This time, make sure there’s a check next to the Replace box on the right side.
Bet you didn’t know that was there, did you? It seems obvious in hindsight, but it’s easy to miss. Now you can run search and replace queries all day long. It also works on highlighted sections, if you don’t want to search and replace throughout the entire document.
4. Word Count
One of the big counts against TextEdit is that there’s no function for getting a word count. But you can use a little workaround with the search bar to get one anyway.
Repeat the steps above to open the Insert Pattern menu from the search bar. From there, select Any Word Characters, and run the search.
You’ll notice that a number is now displayed on the right side of the search bar — that’s the number of search results. Which, in this case, is the number of words in your document.
5. Edit in Rich Text
TextEdit is great for processing simple text, but it also has some stronger editing power hiding under the hood. Access it under Format > Make Rich Text.
Once you’ve selected this option, you’ll see a number of new formatting options, like font tweaks, alignment, and spacing. (You may also see a tab ruler, but we’ll get to that in a moment.)
Just like with any other word processing app, select the text you want and make changes with the menus. You can also apply styles to an entire paragraph with the styles button in the top-left (it’s marked with a paragraph icon).
Note that this also works in reverse: Format > Make Plain Text will strip out all the formatting from a document.
6. Edit Tabs
TextEdit’s standard tabs move the cursor over one centimeter for each press of the Tab button. But you can change that. If you can’t see the ruler, hit Cmd + R to make it visible.
Then, click and drag any tab to reposition it, or drag it down to remove it from the ruler. You can also right-click any tab stop to edit the type: left, center, right, and decimal tabs are all available.
7. Make Quick Bulleted Lists
Rich text, of course, has support for bulleted and ordered lists. But if you don’t want to switch to rich text mode, you can still insert a list with a quick keyboard shortcut.
Just hit Option + Tab and you’ll get an indented, bulleted list that uses hyphens as item markers.
8. Use Autocomplete
While using a text expander is a more efficient method of typing longer words that you need to use often, macOS includes a built-in autocomplete feature that can help you with long words.
Start typing a word, then hit Option + Esc, and you’ll get a list of potential completions. Select the one you want with your keyboard or mouse, and it’ll be inserted.
9. Read Text Aloud
Need to read something, but don’t have time? Why not have TextEdit read to you? Just paste any text into the TextEdit window and hit Edit > Speech > Start Speaking.
The voice isn’t especially pleasant, but it works! You can also do this on your iPhone for text-to-speech on the go.
Do You Use TextEdit?
The tips above just scratch the surface of TextEdit. If you’re comfortable with AppleScript and the terminal, you can do a whole lot more. But without getting deeper into the OS, these features turn TextEdit into a much more powerful text editor than most people realize.
What are your favorite features in TextEdit? How have you extended its functionality? Share your best tips in the comments below!