Find out what most tech writers hope you already know!

Read Me First: A Take Control Crash Course

Tonya Engst

Find out what most tech writers hope you already know in this free ebook by Tonya Engst. Tonya takes you behind the scenes, explaining why tech writers write the way they do and helping you decode the directions for everything from Desktops to directories, keys to menus, and paths to preferences.

This product has been discontinued.

Find out what most tech writers hope you already know in this free ebook by Tonya Engst. Tonya takes you behind the scenes, explaining why tech writers write the way they do and helping you decode the directions for everything from Desktops to directories, keys to menus, and paths to preferences.

Getting the ebook: Click a Formats icon at the left to download the ebook in PDF, EPUB, or Mobipocket format, or read it on the Web.

Although Read Me First: A Take Control Crash Course has plenty of basic information about using the Mac (and a few chapters about iOS), its focus is not on helping inexperienced users master important basics. Instead, it focuses on explaining the assumptions that tech writers make when writing directions. This book aims to make sure people reading technical documentation don’t get stuck for the lack of basic know-how, such as how to match the name of your operating system with its numerical version, how to understand written shortcuts for navigating menus, what Control-click means, how to enter something on the command line, how to follow a path, and more.

Because we feel strongly that everyone should know this information, the book is wired with social media options at the end of each chapter, so you can easily share individual chapters with anyone who could use the information.

This book is free to all, but if you’d like to support the effort that went into creating it or to encourage future updates, please head over to the Leanpub site, where you can pay whatever you feel is appropriate.

Tonya Engst

About Tonya Engst

Tonya Engst co-founded the TidBITS online publication in 1990 with Adam Engst. She also co-founded the Take Control Books series with Adam in 2003 and saw the series through its early years, working with many talented authors and editors to add hundreds of titles and to create a process that could easily produce PDF and EPUB/Mobipocket formatted ebooks from the same WYSIWYG manuscript. Tonya was editor-in-chief of the Take Control series from 2003–2017.

Which versions of OS X and iOS does this book talk about?

We wrote and tested this book in mid-2014 with OS X 10.9 Mavericks and iOS 7, and with some consideration of older and newer operating systems. The vast majority of it should be useful with any recent version of OS X or iOS.

What Happened to Read Me First: A Take Control Crash Course?

Posted by Tonya Engst on February 20, 2018

Thanks for your interest in my ebook, Read Me First: A Take Control Crash Course! Written in 2014, this title was available for free from the Take Control website until midway through 2017, when it was withdrawn because the screenshots were dated and the information wasn’t always accurate for new versions of macOS.

When I wrote this ebook, I was editor-in-chief of the Take Control series, and I wrote it largely so we didn’t have to repeat certain topics in other Take Control titles. Of these, the three biggies were figuring out what version of macOS or iOS you were running, launching the System Preferences app on the Mac, and understanding directory paths. Keep reading below for tips on these three tasks.

The 49-page ebook did cover a few other topics, and if you’re running 10.9 Mavericks, 10.10 Yosemite, or 10.11 El Capitan and really want a copy of the PDF, feel free to ask at support@tidbits.com. Some time after this title lived out its useful life, I used it as the starting point for another ebook, Take Control of Mac Basics. Weighing in at about three times the page count, Take Control of Mac Basics costs $15 and covers even more of the fundamentals of using a Mac while sharing oodles of tips for improving your everyday Mac experience.

Finding Your System Version

To complete this simple task on the Mac, move the pointer to the upper-left corner of the screen and click the Apple icon. Choose About This Mac from the menu. A window appears. Text in this window tells you the operating system version. Where, exactly, that text appears depends on which version. Look carefully and you’ll find it.

What about iOS? In iOS, open the Settings app and tap General. Then, tap About. Look on the About screen for the Version line, which will provide the version of iOS.

Launching System Preferences

Imagine this. You want to change the background image on your Mac’s Desktop. You search in Google for instructions and find an article that promises to tell you what to do. But, it tells you to open System Preferences. Okay, fine… but where is System Preferences? For that matter, what is System Preferences?

First, it’s an app that provides a home for “preference panes,” most of which come from Apple and let you configure various aspects of your Mac experience. Other preference panes are installed by third-party apps.

To open System Preferences, click the Apple icon at the upper-left corner of the Mac screen. Then, choose System Preferences. That’s the most obvious and reliable method, but there are lots of other methods, such as clicking its gear icon in the Dock, pressing Command-Space to invoke Spotlight, and then typing “sys,” and even clicking the round Siri icon on the menu bar and saying “open System Preferences” (assuming you’re running macOS 10.12 Sierra or later and have Siri enabled).

Understanding Paths

Any file or folder on a Mac can be found by navigating from a known starting point—usually the main level of a drive, through any intervening folders, to the item. Instead of writing out all that navigation with a lot of “Open this, then open that,” we use a path.

For example, if I want to tell someone where to find their Photos Library, I could say “open your home folder. Then open your Pictures folder. That’s where you’ll find a file called Photos Library.photoslibrary.” That’s a lot to write out and boring to read. So, instead, I could use a path and say, “You’ll find your Photos Library at /Users/homeFolder/Pictures/Photos Library.photoslibrary.”

A Tilde ~ in a Path

Paths like the one above that tell you to go to a spot inside the home folder can be awkward, since the writer can’t know the name of your home folder. Fortunately, there’s a shortcut. To indicate more gracefully that a path includes the user’s home folder, a writer might begin the path with a tilde character, like this: ~/Pictures/Photos Library.photoslibrary.

Typing or Pasting a Path

Instead of following a path by clicking from folder to folder in the Finder, you might wish to type the path—or copy and paste it. Pasting is handy when you want to follow a complex path that you see in an ebook or on the Web—you can copy the path using the Edit > Copy command and then paste it with Edit > Paste. Typing a path can also be a useful way to view a folder that is normally hidden. For example, if the instructions for some Unix task tell you to look in /var/log, this is your only method of navigating there—unless you want to work on the command line.

To follow a path by typing or pasting it, follow these steps:

  1. In the Finder, choose Go > Go to Folder.
  2. Enter the path by typing or pasting it, if you’ve already copied it.
  3. Click the Go button.

A Finder window opens, showing the folder whose path you entered.

November 28, 2017 --- This book has been superseded by Tonya's newer title, Take Control of Mac Basics.

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