Six useful text management panels in OS X

TextEditIconXWhen typing out documents in OS X you might resort to the services offered by Microsoft Word and or Apple’s Pages, as these have convenient tools for adjusting the type face, accessing special characters, and otherwise manipulating your text; however, in addition there are a number of built-in panels in OS X that can give you similar access to features like special characters, word suggestions, and dictionary lookup of word selections. Being built-in, these can work even in programs that do not have their own obvious text manipulation controls.

The Font Panel

If you need to preview a font, or change its size, then you can press Command-T, or sometimes Shift-Command-T, to bring up the font panel. This will list all of your current available fonts as configured in Font Book, along with options for changing colors and adding special styles to your text.

Font panel in OS X

The font panel gives you a number of hidden styles and options for every type face you have installed.

The Character Viewer

If you go to the Keyboard system preferences you can check the option to “Show Keyboard & Character Viewers in menu bar” and then check the option in the Input Sources tab to “Show Input menu in menu bar.” With these enabled, you can now access the Character Viewer from the new input menu, which will allow you to browse and search numerous unicode characters that are part of the fonts you have installed, and you can input them at the point of your cursor by double-clicking one, or drag and dropping it at a desired location in your text.

The Keyboard Viewer

Keyboard and Character Viewer Menu

When enabled, the character and keyboard viewers can be accessed from this menu.

Along with the Character Viewer, you can open the Keyboard Viewer that will show you a layout of your current keyboard and the characters on it. This is exceptionally useful if you have assigned a different keyboard layout than the one represented on the keys of your keyboard (e.g., a French keyboard layout on a US English keyboard). In addition to showing you the current keys, you can hold modifier key combinations (Shift, Option, Control, etc.) to see what optional characters will be typed for corresponding keys. If needed, you can also click the character in the keyboard viewer to have it entered, instead of typing it out on your keyboard.

Emoji panels in OS X

This emoji panel can be invoked at practically any text field that supports unicode text input.

Emoji Input panel

While the Character Viewer will give you access to all font characters, the most used of these are the emoji that are available in OS X and iOS when using Messages and similar programs. To quickly get to these in any program, you can press Control-Command-Space and a small popup panel will appear at your cursor that shows various categories of emoji. You can then click one to have it input at the point of your cursor.

Word Suggestions

Word suggestion menu in OS X

Pressing Escape will show possible words based on the characters you have already typed.

In many programs, you can look up word possibilities to use based on a few characters you have initially typed, by simply pressing the Escape key. When you do this, a list menu will appear that shows you the possible word completions you can use based on the first characters you have entered. This is not contextual at all, so unlike the iOS 8 QuickType keyboard it will not analyze your sentence to give you suggestions, but instead will only give you an alphabetical list to choose from. As a result, this is not the most convenient option, but it does have its uses.

Dictionary Lookup

The last text panel in OS X is the option to look up the definition of any word by right-clicking it and choosing the first contextual option to “Look Up Word.” You can also do this by tapping a word with three fingers on multi-touch trackpads. As with the emoji input panel, this will display a floating panel above your selection, that will contain a brief dictionary definition of the word, along with Thesaurus and Wikipedia entries for it. In this panel, if you want more information from any of these sections you can click “Dictionary,” “Thesaurus,” or “Wikipedia” to have the system open these and show you what you are looking for.

Dictionary lookup panel in OS X

Tap a word with three fingers to bring up this panel.


2 thoughts on “Six useful text management panels in OS X

  1. Strod

    For people who frequently type in other languages:

    You can activate dictionaries for additional languages in the Preferences of the “Dictionary” app. The dictionary panel mentioned in the article will show entries for all active languages that have the highlighted word.

    You can install additional dictionaries also. The following website is a fantastic source for dictionaries in other languages as well as bilingual dictionaries (mostly English something else), with instructions:

    You can configure spelling correction in other languages in System Preferences > Keyboard > Text > Spelling. I suggest that you choose “Automatic by Language” so the system will automatically guess what language you are typing in, usually correctly. The “Word Suggestions” list mentioned in the article (the one invoked with the Esc key) is also aware of what language you are using and provides suggestions only in that language.

  2. Kevin Murphy

    The character viewer is strange on my MacBook pro (late 2013) — all the emoji characters become invisible when I try to activate them in my Pages 09 (4.0) documents – -they take up a space, but are invisible. What can I do to make them visible?

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