How to Master Text Highlighting with Your Mouse [Mouse Tips]

Depending upon the font size of a document and your hand-eye coordination, it can be difficult to position the mouse cursor exactly where you want it when selecting text. Here’s how to quickly select text blocks with minimal fuss.

Photo by quinn.anya.

You may have been using some of these text-selection tricks ever since you fired up a computer with a mouse, but chances are you’ll find something below that you didn’t know before.

Select By Words Instead of Characters

Instead of simply clicking and dragging your mouse, double-click the first or last word you want to highlight and hold down the mouse button on the second click; then just drag the mouse as usual when selecting text and voilà—you're selecting whole words rather than individual characters.

I’ve tested this method with Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word, Wordpad, and Notepad—but it's probably an OS default, since it works in virtually any program I can think of. You can get Word to do the same thing by default—without double-clicking—via the Edit tab in the Options dialog, but it's an all or nothing affair. The option is checked by default; turning it off gives you greater flexibility for text selection once you know this trick.

Select Whole Paragraphs or Documents

Most applications will also select an entire paragraph with a triple-click. Similar to the above method, if you triple-click before dragging the mouse, only whole paragraphs will be highlighted. This can be a quick way to select an entire document by triple-clicking the first paragraph and dragging down to the last.

More Selection Options Using Word

While the above tips work most anywhere, Word seemingly has no end of different ways to select text. Here are just some found by experimenting with different key combinations while clicking and/or dragging with the mouse:

  • Shift+click: Select from the current caret position to the mouse cursor location
  • Alt+double-click: Select from the beginning of a word to the mouse cursor location
  • Alt+click-and-drag: Select a rectangular block of text
  • Ctrl+click: Select an entire sentence; once one sentence has been selected this way, Shift+click or Ctrl+click-and-drag can be used to expand the selection to multiple contiguous sentences

If you’ve got your own text selection tricks, share them in the comments.

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