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Keyboard tricks and tips

March 2004

The computers we buy are, like our washing machines, capable of doing far more than most of us ever ask of them.  Just as we seem to be equipped to wash categories of clothes that I don’t believe exist, our computers are massively overloaded with extras that we know nothing of.

The trouble is, these extras are hidden from us.  They are not even all in the Helpfile, so we rely on finding them by accident or hearing about them from friends.

I especially like keyboard shortcuts.  Apologies to Apple Mac users; all this advice will be useless to you, I’m afraid.  You might try (click on Mac Key Sequences) for help from your perspective.

For the rest of us, when you are next using Word, highlight a few lines, hold down the Shift key then press the “F3” key at the top of the keyboard (in the jargon, Shift+F3), and watch the words change from lower case to CAPITALS; do it again and They Look Like This.  This works in Outlook as well, but not in Outlook Express.

Actually, the “F” keys are worth getting to know (“F” stands for Function in this case).  Press F1 at any time and the help file should pop up; when using Word, Shift+F7 brings up the thesaurus, which can be a great help, aid, benefit, support, comfort or relief to a struggling writer.

When you are looking at websites, F11 makes the screen as big as possible; press it again and it puts it back where it was.  F5 makes sure that you are seeing the latest version of a web page, and not just an older one saved in your computer.  F4 displays all the addresses you’ve typed.

Then there’s the key with the Windows symbol on it; the Cinderella of the keyboard.  You’ll probably find it near the space bar.  Windows+D will minimise all open programmes; press Shift+Windows+M and they will all reappear.

The “Ctrl" key opens many doors, too (bottom left and right of the keyboard, usually).  Ctrl+S saves whatever you are working on.  Ctrl+C copies whatever you have highlighted onto the clipboard; Ctrl+V pastes whatever is on the clipboard into your work.  Ctrl+Z undoes what you just did, Ctrl+Y redoes it for you.

There’s much more, especially when using Word.  Ctrl+P gets the Printer going.  Highlight some text and Ctrl+] increases the font size by 1 point; Ctrl+[ decreases it.  Ctrl+B makes it bold, Ctrl+U underlines it and Ctrl+Shift+W underlines words but not spaces and Ctrl+Shift+D double-underlines it.

Centre a paragraph by pressing Ctrl+E, and make all lines of equal length with Ctrl+J.

Then there are the mystery keys.  What does “Print Screen” do?  If you press it, nothing seems to happen.  Oh yes it does.  It takes a snapshot of exactly what you are looking at, toolbars and the rest, and puts it on the clipboard.  Press Ctrl+V and the snapshot it will be planted into a Word document or similar. 

So which are my favourites?  My pet one is Ctrl+S, which saves whatever you are working on, and means that when the computer crashes (as it will, in due course) you will not lose all your efforts.  I do it without thinking whenever I pause; it’s an excellent habit to get into.  And I love Alt+TAB, which shows you all the programmes you have open and allows you to click quickly between them.  Also Alt+F4, which closes the programme you are using.  They all save ages of fiddling around with the mouse.