Pasting as text: Basic how-to

A while ago I explained why you might want to paste as values, and how to do it in various programs using the “paste special” options.

Another possibility with “paste special” is pasting as text. This isn’t quite the same as pasting as values. When you paste as values, the program assumes you’re pasting into a spreadsheet from a spreadsheet. Pasting as text, however, is designed to paste into a spreadsheet from a word processor, or a web page, or pretty much anything else.

Don’t worry about getting them confused, though, because spreadsheets will generally only offer you one or the other.

So: on to they “why” and “how”.

Why is easy. If you copy something from a website and paste it into a spreadsheet, it can get really, really funky. Even a relatively straightforward table can end up chopped up and strangely rearranged. Fonts can get changed in truly bizarre ways, links can make it hard to select cells, and if you’re not using an old program then you, too, might get to experience the joy of having to individually delete every bullet graphic that’s floating over your text. (If you’re working in Excel 2007 and manage to paste a textarea from a form…let me know if you figure out how to delete it!)

I recommend going out, finding some sites, and pasting stuff from them into your favorite spreadsheet program using regular paste. In fact, if you want to see how your program handles graphics, try copying this page! Unless you’re using Google Docs, you’ll see what I mean about the graphics.

Pasting as text avoids most of that. Table headers often get messed up either way, but not as much so when pasting as text, and the tables themselves generally come through intact. Links are stripped out, as is formatting, and the graphics are no longer there. It won’t be as pretty as the information was on the screen, but it’ll still be usable.

So, if you’ve decided you want to paste as text, how do you do it?
No matter what program you’re using, you need to start by copying something from a non-spreadsheet source.

In Excel 97:

  1. Click on the “Edit” menu, or type “alt-e”.
  2. Click on “Paste Special” or type “s”.
  3. In the menu that pops up, click on “Text” or “Unicode Text”.
  4. Click on the “OK” button, or hit enter.

In Excel 2007:

  1. In the Home tab, look at the “Clipboard” group. For me it’s the first one on the left.
  2. Below the graphic of the clipboard and the word Paste, there’s a downward-pointing arrow. Click on it.
  3. In the menu that pops up, click on “Text” or “Unicode Text”.

In Google Spreadsheet and in Microsoft Works Spreadsheet:

No need to do anything special! Regular paste (Ctrl-v) will strip everything down to plain text.

In OpenOffice Calc:

  1. Click “Edit”
  2. Click “Paste Special…”
  3. In the window that pops up, click on “Unformatted Text”
  4. Click on OK.
  5. In the new window that pops up, you can leave everything in the default settings, and click OK
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