How to navigate documents on your Mac like a pro

TextEditIconXOne of the primary purposes of your Mac is likely to compose or view various text-based documents, and in doing so you may find yourself needing to quickly navigate through them. Of course, the primary method for doing this is to use your trackpad or mouse, where Apple’s multi-touch input options provide intuitive and quick ways of scrolling and placing your cursor; however, you also have a number of options available with your keyboard, which can be just as quick, especially if you are in the middle of typing.

Moving the page

If you are typing and need to move to a different location of your page, you will likely find the classic Page Up and Page Down buttons useful, but if they are missing from your keyboard (ie, for MacBooks), then just hold the Control or Fn key and tap the up or down arrows. Using the Control key will cause your Mac to jump to the new page location, whereas the Fn key will scroll to the location.

In addition to paging up and down, you can jump to the beginning or end of your document with the classic Home and End keys, which are similarly accessed by holding these same modifier keys and then tapping the left or right arrows for the respective home and end locations.

The paging, home, and end functions will leave your cursor where it is, allowing you to jump back to its location by either typing a character or two, or pressing the arrow keys without any modifiers.

Moving your cursor

If you wish to move your mouse cursor, then again you can click anywhere to place your cursor, but can also use modifiers to jump your cursor very accurately to stereotyped positions, which with practice can ensure your cursor goes exactly where you want it. This can be a major benefit if your current app is hanging a little and not accepting any mouse clicks. Even in a hang, keyboard entries will still queue up, so you can press them and if or when the app stops hanging, it will accept them in a flood.

You can use this to your advantage, by using arrow-key based approaches for moving your cursor during a hang, as opposed to the less reliable mouse. For instance, when your word processor is periodically showing the spinning color wheel, if you hold the Shift key and press the left-arrow five times, followed by pressing the delete key, when the app stops hanging you will likely see the 5 characters immediately before your cursor deleted. With practice, you can similarly queue up actions to get tasks done, even during application hangs.

There are only a few basic options to use for navigating your text in this manner:

  • Arrow Keys alone will move up or down one line, or left and right a single character
  • Hold Command when pressing arrows to move to the beginning or end of either the current line, or the entire document.
  • Hold Option when pressing arrows to move to the beginning or end of the current word, or the current paragraph.
Moving mouse cursors with the keyboard in OS X

For a line of text such as this one, if your cursor is placed at the beginning of the word “text,” you can press the right arrow to move over one character (red), hold the Option key while doing so to move to the end of the current word (green), or the Command key to move to the end of the current line (blue). Including the Shift key will select all text in the respective boxes during these actions.

For all of these three approaches, you can include the Shift key to create a selection from the current location of your cursor, to whatever new location you intend to place the cursor. This can be convenient for making a quick selection to cut and paste, as mentioned above.

Thats it! Getting used to tapping the arrow keys either alone or in combination with these two modifier keys can get you quite far with placing your cursor on your page, without needing to touch your mouse. However, you might find that by using both together you can make optimal use of your Mac. For instance, to select a section of text in a large document you can quickly scroll to get close to the location you wish, and then click to place your cursor at the desired starting point. Then use a combination holding either Shift, or Shift-Option, and tap the arrow keys to expand your selection to additional lines and words. With just a little practice, you may be surprised at how fast and accurate this can be.