I Have Good News For Those Stuck in PDF Copy and Paste Hell.

PDFs are a wonderful and horrible invention. PDF means Portable Document Format and they essentially create a document that displays consistently no matter what device you view it on. You’ve probably been sent a file from someone and opened it only to see a document that looks like it was formatted by a fourth grader. This (usually) doesn’t reflect on the sender’s document composition skills but on the differences in how documents are displayed on different devices/systems. The PDF standard is meant to be a way around this issue.

ClipboardFusion logo.
ClipboardFusion logo.

PDFs are wonderful and horrible for many reasons – but today I want to talk about just one: copy and paste. Many eBooks are available in PDF format as are many academic journals and other scholarly documents. When you view said documents you may find content within them you want to copy and paste into another document (always with appropriate citations, right? right?!). For example, when I read an electronic book I “copy and paste” the content I consider key, interesting, humorous, etc. into a Google Drive document and then I can easily search through a library of everything I’ve read and thought is important (rather than the entire works, which oftentimes say the same thing over and over in slightly different words…but I’m just looking for the one time they said it perfectly). This is an easy task right? It isn’t with many PDFs.

I haven’t taken the time to look into why PDFs do this (I don’t really care), but for whatever reason PDFs insist on inserting hard line breaks all over the place. This means the text

your paste may look

something like this,

which is very annoying.

When you want it to look something like, “your paste may look something like this, which is very annoying.”  Now, you can just delete out those hard breaks and reformat the text yourself in a few seconds – but if you read a lot (I do) you’ll get tired of this repetitive and stupid task that is slowly consuming your life. How can you escape this annoying problem?

ClipboardFusion by Binary Fortress. It is a free and small application which can be configured to modify text you copy in various ways – one of those being automatically removing hard breaks from text you copy.

ClipboardFusion can do all sorts of really complex and crazy stuff to copied text if you want it to…but in this case we just want to remove the hard returns from copied text. Once you have ClipboardFusion installed you can configure it to remove the hard breaks by going into Settings–>Text Replace and creating a rule. The match text for this rule is “\n” (this is the computer code stating there should be a line break) and the replace text we leave empty (b/c we just want it to remove the hard break, not put anything into the text in place of \n). Just that easy you are off to the races – err, escaping from PDF copy and paste hell.

A few important caveats to remember:

  • ClipboardFusion has to be running if you want it to clean up the line breaks.
  • If you are copying and pasting and your text looks all funny – this is probably because ClipboardFusion is running when you don’t want it to. Exit out of the program and try again – your text should now paste in with line breaks and all.
  • This is only a very small feature of what ClipboardFusion is capable of. Check out the ClipboardFusion website to learn about other powerful processes you can utilize.

Binary Fortress is a pretty nifty company. I’d encourage you to take a look at their other applications as well. DisplayFusion looks pretty sweet for those with multi-monitors and they have a number of other free and for sale applications that make life easier. Glad I could gain you a little of your life back…but the real credit goes to ClipboardFusion…Now if only I could find a way to write posts without consuming any of my life…hmmm…I’ll let you know when I get that one figured out.

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