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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 6 Issue 4April 2012
In This Issue
I Try To Change The Font, But It Doesn't Always Work!
Do you find it frustrating when you try to change the font or size of text in an existing document? Read on for my advice on how to handle this easily every time.
I Try To Change The Font, But It Doesn't Always Work!

Does this sound familiar?

"Sometimes when I chose a different font or size, my text changes to use it, but other times it doesn't. It drives me crazy!"

If it does, you're not alone. Whether you use word processing software (Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, OpenOffice, etc.) or "rich text" in your email program (Outlook, webmail, AOL, etc.), and regardless of whether you use Windows or Macintosh, this is a common and confusing problem for many people.

The problem
Scenario #1: You start to type some text into a new (empty) document or email, and you happen to notice right away that the font isn't what you want. You delete the little bit of text you've typed, choose a different font, start typing again, and now your text looks good. Everything is working just as you'd expect, and you don't give it a second thought.

Scenario #2: You start another document or email (or open an existing one), but this time you don't realize that you'd rather have it in a different font until after you've typed in a fair amount of text, perhaps a few paragraphs or pages. Without deleting anything (why would you start over?), you then click on the font menu and choose the one you'd rather use, but your existing text doesn't change at all. It's maddening!

The insertion point vs. the selection
When you're writing and editing text, at any given moment you can only have either
  • An insertion point - That vertical blinking line that indicates the exact spot in your text (between two characters) where new text would appear if you were to start (or continue) typing; it also indicates the location from which text will be deleted if you were to start tapping the "backspace" or "delete" keys
  • A selection - That portion of your text that you've selected (highlighted), typically by clicking-and-dragging with your mouse; a highlight color (often a shade of blue) is used to indicate this visually
As you write and edit your text, you'll often go back and forth between having an insertion point and having some text selected.

In other words:
  • When you click (and release without moving) in your text, that single action does two things: It turns off the current insertion point or selection, and then places the blinking insertion point at the new location where you clicked.
  • When you click-and-drag in your text, that turns off the current insertion point or selection, and then selects the text you've indicated at the new location.
The word processing secret that no one ever may ever have told you
When you're editing your text, choosing a different font will only affect the selection or the insertion point. It has no effect on any other text.

In other words, you have to click first:
  • If you want to change the font of existing text, you have to first select that text by clicking-and-dragging, and then choose the new font. (If you want to change all of your text, rather than clicking-and-dragging through your entire document, save time and effort by using the Select All command, which is typically found in the Edit menu.)
  • If you want to pick the font for new text that you haven't typed in yet, you need to first click to place the insertion point, then choose the font you want at that location, and then start typing.
Frustration explained
Scenario #1 above worked because the insertion point was active when the font was chosen, and the document was empty so there was no existing text to be changed, so when the text was typed in, it used that newly chosen font.

Scenario #2 above was frustrating because the insertion point was at the end of the document when the new font was chosen, so it had no effect on the rest of the text. (If some new text had been typed at the end of the document, it would have arrived using the newly chosen font.) Instead, the entire document should have been selected first, then choosing the new font would have changed the text.

This not only applies to fonts, but also to all other character attributes
Individual characters can have many different attributes or "formatting":
  • Font: Times, Helvetica, Palatino, Bookman, Symbol, etc.
  • Size: 8, 9, 10, 72, 200, etc.
  • Style: Bold, italic, underlined (any combination of these), or Plain (none of these)
  • Color: Red, green, blue, orange, etc.
  • Other effects: Subscript, superscript, shadow, condensed, expanded, rotated, etc., depending on the software you're using
So, although I've mostly written about changing the font, if your situation involves your wanting to change to a different size or color or boldness, etc., the same advice applies.

  • Click first to place the insertion point (or click-and-drag first to select some text), then change the font.
  • If you reach for the Font menu first without knowing where the insertion point (or selection) is, then some of the time you will get odd and confusing results, or see no effect at all, depending on where the insertion point (or selection) is located vs. where you want it to be located. The computer doesn't know what you want to do, it only knows what you've told it you want as indicated by where you've clicked.
  • Don't drive yourself crazy. Practice this simple technique and it will work every time!
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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Copyright (C) 2012 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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