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Text tips in OS X Lion

Quickly accessing symbols and text substitution, in addition to spell checking for entered text can be very useful when composing documents. Here are some tips for quickly accessing these features in OS X Lion.

When composing documents, it's convenient to have text-handling tools available to quickly access anything from word definition look-ups to suggestions, spell checkers, and options for finding obscure symbols that may be handy in a document.

While the Mac OS has for a long time had keyboard shortcuts and character pallets for quickly accessing needed symbols, in the latest versions of the OS, Apple has incorporated a number of new features for quickly accessing relevant characters, substitutions, and other text-handling features that may be convenient when typing.

  • Automatic Options
    Language & Text system preferences
    Automatic options can be enabled in the Text tab of the Language & Text in System Preferences (click for larger view). Screenshot by Topher Kessler
    A couple of the options in OS X for handling text are automatic options that include spell checking and text substitution. The behavior of these can be set up in the "Text" tab of the "Language & Text" in System Preferences, where you can create your own symbol substitutions for commonly used symbols, or enable some of the default substitutions that Apple has configured. While you cannot modify the behavior of spell checking features too much, you can choose the language dictionary to use and also turn automatic spell correction off. By default if the OS finds a close match then it will autocorrect a misspelled word (which you can undo by immediately pressing Command-Z); however, if you turn off autocorrect then the system will just underline misspelled words.

  • Options at your cursor
    Contextual menu suggestions
    Pressing the Escape key when composing will bring up suggestions based on the first letters you have already entered (click for larger view). Screenshot by Topher Kessler
    In OS X Lion, Apple has incorporated a couple of new options for quickly accessing character and word substitutions. The first is a word suggestion or autocomplete option, where when you are typing you can have the system give you all available words based on the text you have already entered. Just type a few of the characters of a word followed by pressing the Escape key (or by pressing Command-period), and the system will display a menu showing all words that begin with those letters, but conveniently putting the commonly used ones at the top of the list.

    In addition to word substitution, Apple has built in character substitutions. If you'll notice in Lion, Apple has removed the option for characters to be repeated when you hold a key down, and instead if you press a character than has additional options like accent marks then the system will display a menu of these options when you hold the key down.

  • Contextual menu options
    Contextual Menu options
    Right-clicking a word will give options to look it up. If the word is misspelled then options for corrections will also show in the contextual menu. Farther down the list you can use options to invoke spell checking on the document (click for larger view). Screenshot by Topher Kessler
    Besides automatic options, Apple has its basic spell check routines that can be invoked on the whole document. To get to the spell checker, right-click the document and choose either "Show Spelling and Grammar" or "Check Document Now" from the "Spelling and Grammar" submenu. The first option will show the spelling and word replacement tool, and the second will underline all misspelled words in the document, which you can right-click to correct.

    In addition to the spell-checking options, Apple has included options to look up and search for words with the same contextual menu. If you don't know a word's meaning or are unsure about its context in a sentence, you can right-click it and select "Look up WORD" from the contextual menu, and the OS X dictionary will be invoked at the point of the word. From here you can access the dictionary, the thesaurus, and Wikipedia entries quickly, or you can click the section title (i.e., "Dictionary," "Thesaurus," etc.) to open the full dictionary application that offers more extended word look-up features.

    Unfortunately you cannot substitute the selected word with any that you have found in the dictionary, but you can progressively look up presented words by clicking them within the dictionary.

    The last word look-up feature is the ability to perform a Google search on a word by right-clicking it and selecting "Search with Google." Doing this will launch your default browser and load a Google search results page of the selected word or phrase.

  • System-wide Helpers
    Input menu options
    Enabling these options in the System Preferences will show the input menu in the toolbar, from where you can invoke the character and keyboard viewers (click for larger view). Screenshot by Topher Kessler
    The final options in OS X are those that have been around for a while in the Mac OS, which include the character palette and the even older Keyboard Viewer, which used to be referred to as "Key Caps." To easily access these options, go to the "Input Sources" section of the "Language & Text" in System Preferences and check the "Keyboard & Character Viewer" option in the sources list, followed by checking the option to show the input menu in the menu bar. Doing this will show the input menu in the menu bar, from which you can select either the Keyboard Viewer or the Character Viewer panels. Note that if you have selected multiple keyboard layouts then the input viewer menu will show the national flag of the currently selected layout.

    With either the Character palette or the Keyboard Viewer open, you can click or double-click various characters to insert them in your document at the point of the cursor. The keyboard layout is useful for seeing what characters are quickly accessed by pressing modifier keys (Option, Command, Control, etc.), and the Character viewer has numerous alternative items organized by type (Math symbols, Greek, Currency, Emoticons, Braille, Music, etc.).

While these features exist in the OS, they are offered as core services for applications to use, and are only available if developers create their programs to use these services. Most do, but some such as Firefox or Microsoft Word may have their own text-handling implementations.

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