The Beginner's Guide To The Notepad

Notepad is a very basic text editor that's been part of Windows for a very long time. It's great for writing relatively short documents that you want to save as plain text, but that's not all you can do with it. If you haven't used Notepad much, you may be surprised by how easy it is to use. Let's take a new look at this old desktop app.

NOTE: Notepad is essentially the same in Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, so most of the illustrations in this article will be from Windows 8.1. The only difference is in how you open the application in each operating system.

How To Open Notepad

In Windows 7, Notepad is found in the Accessories folder in the Start Menu.

But there's no need to navigate to that folder when you can just type notepad into the Start Menu search box.

To find Notepad in Windows 8.1, either type notepad on the Start screen, or bring up the charms and type into the search box.

When Notepad opens, in either operating system, you'll see this no-frills screen. Nothing more is needed, since Notepad has a limited set of options. At the top of the window you'll see menus for File, Edit, Format, View and Help.

Let's take a look at the menus, to see what you can do. Everything should be reassuringly familiar.

NOTE: Notepad is just a text editor. If you try to paste graphics into it, it won't work.

Using The File Menu In Notepad

Your choices are New, Open, Save, Save As, Page Setup and Print. As you can see, many of these commands have keyboard shortcuts as well. You should already be familiar with these commands, since they are the same in nearly every Windows application.

You do have some options you might not be familiar with when you use the Save As command. By default, Windows associates any file with a .txt extension with Notepad, so double clicking on it automatically opens it in Notepad, and that is the default format (plain text) for the files that you save. However, you can also use Notepad to create HTML files. Make sure that Word Wrap is turned on (we'll discuss this in just a minute) and type your HTML code the way you would type plain text. When it comes time to save your work, choose Save As, and select All Files from the list of choices. Then save your file with the .htm or .html extension.

You can also use Save As to change the encoding of your file to match a particular character set. Here, a bit of text from our Romanian site 7 Tutoriale has been cut and pasted into Notepad.

If you were to try to save this as is, you'll get a message that if you save it as plain text, all the formatting would be lost.

You'll need to choose the appropriate encoding from the drop-down list. This might take a little experimentation to get right, depending on the types of characters in the file, but starting with Unicode is a good bet.

If you're not familiar with encoding, this article should help explain it.

The only item on the File menu that might be less familiar is Page Setup. In more sophisticated programs, Page Setup offers a long list of options. In Notepad though, your choices are simple. You can choose the paper size and where your printer keeps the paper, the page orientation and whether to have a header and/or footer (and the text to include in each).

By default, the text in the header is the name of the document and the date it was printed, and the text in the footer is the page number.If you don't want this information printed, just delete the codes.

If you'd like to see the codes available for headers and footers, either pull down the Help menu or press F1 and choose "How do I create a header or footer" from the FAQ list. Explaining all that is beyond the scope of this article.

Using The Edit Menu In Notepad

The Edit menu offers quite a few choices, but again, everything on this menu should be familiar to anyone who's used Windows. All the Edit choices have associated keyboard shortcuts. Note that most of the commands will be greyed out until there is text selected in the Notepad window.

The first item on the Edit menu is Undo/Redo, which can be very useful if you're editing. What appears in this place depends on what you've been doing. If you have just used the Undo command or pressed Ctrl-Z, you'll see the Redo command at the top of the list (and its keyboard shortcut, Ctrl-Y). The rest of the menu, Cut, Copy, Paste, Delete, Find, Find Next, Replace, Go To, Select All, and Time/Date, are standard in nearly all Windows programs that deal with documents.

Go To is the less familiar command in this list. It's used in conjunction with Word Wrap, which we'll discuss in just a minute. Go To only works if Word Wrap is turned off, and only if your document contains numbered lines. If Word Wrap is on, Go To is greyed out. You use Go To to jump to a particular numbered line in the document.

Using The Format Menu In Notepad

The Format menu offers you only two choices: Word Wrap and Font.

For some unknown reason,Notepad has always come with Word Wrap turned off. This means everything you type ends up on one long line, until you press Enter, which will start another long line.

You have the option of pressing Enter when your typing approaches the right margin of the Notepad window, but that makes the lines some arbitrary length depending on the size of your window. If you'd like to see what you're typing without having to scroll all the way to the right, turn Word Wrap on. Then Notepad will behave just like any other word processing program and automatically wrap the text to the next line as you approach the right margin of your window.

The Font choice should be self explanatory. It offers you a list of all your installed fonts, and the option to use bold, italic, and the like. However, unlike the way it works in programs like Microsoft Word, a change of font immediately affects the entire document. You can't use one font on part of the document and another font on another part of it. It's all or nothing.

In the Font menu, there is a less familiar option available, the drop down menu labeled Script. This lets you choose characters that are not available in the standard "Western" style fonts. The choices are Western, Greek, Turkish, Baltic (not available in Windows 7), Central European, Cyrillic and Vietnamese (not available in Windows 7). Choose a set and you'll see some representative characters above it. The Western set is selected by default and you will need to change it to another one if necessary.

Using The View Menu In Notepad

The View menu offers only one option, Status Bar. And that, like the Go To command in the Edit menu, is linked with Word Wrap. If Word Wrap is off, you will see a notification in the lower border of your window, showing you where the cursor is currently located in a document that is not word-wrapped. If Word Wrap is on, the lower border is blank.

How To Create & Save A Document With Notepad

It's pretty simple. Open up Notepad and start typing. We recommend that you turn Word Wrap on, so you don't have to scroll to the right to see the end of each line. You can change the font to whatever you like, but be aware that the entire document will use that font.

If you're accustomed to using the Tab key to get a five-space indent at the beginning of your paragraphs, you should be aware that Notepad comes with ten-space tabs preset internally. If you've ever set up tabs in the top ruler of Microsoft Word, to work at fixed points, you'll see what's happening inNotepad. The Tab key moves the text to the next preset, which may be as many as ten spaces or as few as one. There apparently is no way to change the way this works.

Once you're finished, use the Save As command to save your work. The default folder is the My Documents folder attached to your username in Windows 7, and the OneDrive folder in Windows 8.1. You can change this quite easily. Just use the Save As command and browse to your preferred folder and click Open. Notepad will remember your choice. Keep in mind that your files will be saved with a .txt extension and will be in plain text by default. As mentioned above, you may have to change the encoding to allow Notepad to save properly.

Here is Microsoft's official FAQ for Notepad. Although it's for Windows 7, it will answer most questions about the Windows 8.1 version as well.

If you find yourself using Notepad a lot, you might want to pin it to the Start Menu, Start screen or taskbar.

Conclusion

Notepad has been around for a very long time and continues to be a very useful desktop app for writing simple text and HTML. Sometimes that's really all you need. If you need more than just the basics, WordPad might be a good choice. It's built into all versions of Windows, too!
Do you use Notepad regularly? If you do, please tell us how you find it useful in the comments.