OS X: The Best OS for Writing

Macs may be used by everyone from NASA to the White House, but they can’t shake the perception that they’re designer goods. People readily accept that Macs are good for creatives, but not for real business work, no matter how many times they’ve been proven to simply be great computers for anyone that cares about a good computing experience.

But maybe it’s because Macs are really just so good for creatives. There’s so many little things in OS X that make it great for writing, for one thing, that I think you can easily say it’s the best OS for writers.

The Keyboard is Mightier

For the most part, Apple’s more known today for touch screens and touchpad gestures than they are for keyboards. iOS is designed around the idea that you only need a keyboard for the times you’re typing text, and OS X gets more iOS-like with every release.

But you’d be very mistaken to think the keyboard isn’t important in OS X. If anything, OS X is the best OS for keyboard usage. There’s so many keyboard shortcuts in the OS, from standard copy/paste shortcuts and ways to switch between apps and spaces to shortcuts to automate tasks and jump between words, lines, and more when editing text.

You can even tweak most of the system keyboard shortcuts in OS X to make it work like you want

Some of the best shortcuts are Emacs-style, while others are specific to OS X. You can find many of them listed on Apple’s official OS X Keyboard Shortcut page_US). They’re all designed to make it easy to jump right to the text you need to edit, including the following ones I use all the time:

  • Alt-left or Alt-right – jump to the beginning of the last word or the end of the next word, respectively
  • CMD-left or CMD-right – jump to the beginning or end of a line
  • CMD-up or CMD-down – jump to the top or bottom of the text you’re editing
  • Control-a – jump to beginning of paragraph
  • Control-e – jump to end of paragraph
  • Control-n – move down one line
  • Control-p – move up one line
  • Control-b – move one character backward
  • Control-f – move one character forward
  • Shift + any of the above shortcuts – select text while moving your curser
  • Control-d – delete the character in front of the cursor (much like the Delete key in Windows)
  • Control-t – transpose the character behind the cursor and the character in front of the cursor
  • Control-o – insert a new line in front of the cursor (like the return key)
  • Control-l – center the cursor and line you’re currently editing in the visible editing area (much like focus mode in many plain text editors)
  • Option-Delete – delete the word behind the cursor, including any punctuation after it

Transform Your Text

If editing shortcuts aren’t enough to help you write quicker and edit exactly what you want without having to touch your mouse or touchpad, the contextual menus in most places you can type text in OS X make it even better. Just right-click or control-click on the text you’re editing, and you’ll have a ton of options at your disposal, both from OS X and from 3rd party services you might have installed.

Transforming your text automatically

Right there, you can turn on text substitutions to, for example, use smart quotes, dashes, or links, or let OS X automatically expand snippets you type into phrases you’ve saved, much like a basic TextExpander. You can also make your text uppercase, lowercase, or capitalize the first letter of each word, tricks that can make editing text a whole lot easier. Then, you can listen to the selected text using OS X’s built in screen reader. In Mountain Lion, or with 3rd party services, you can share selected text directly as an email, Tweet, and more.

Turn your text into whatever you want with your Mac

The OS for Bad Spellers

I’ve got a secret to share: I’m insanely awful at spelling. Seriously. Without spell check, I’m afraid it’s be impossible for me to make a living as a writer and editor.

That’s why I love OS X’s built in spell check and dictionary. Anywhere you type, OS X will automatically be checking your spelling, and if it’s not turned on, you can turn it on from the right-click menu. You can also let it check your grammar automatically, and in Lion and newer, you’ll see iOS style spelling suggestions pop up as you type.

Definitions everywhere. Who would think a dictionary could be so insanely useful?

Best of all, the built-in Dictionary app makes it easy to research whether you’re typing or reading an article. Just three-finger tap any word to see a dictionary popup with definitions, synonyms/antonyms, the Wikipedia entry about that word, and any other language dictionary entries you have installed. I have a Thai dictionary installed, so I can quickly find the Thai word for the English I’m writing, or vise versa, which is quite a good learning aid. Pair that with the many language voices on the screen reader, and OS X could even help you master a new language!


That’s just a few of the ways OS X is the nicest OS for writing and typing. If you take the time to master keyboard shortcuts, you’ll find yourself working faster than ever without having touch your mouse at all. All of these features in OS X work throughout all of your apps, from editing an email on Gmail in Safari to writing an your favorite 3rd party writing app like iA Writer. With some of the great writing apps you can get on your Mac, combined with OS X’s text features, you’ll have your Mac turned into an absolute writing powerhouse.

What’s you favorite Mac typing tips and writing apps? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!