Originally this post was going to be about selecting with a focus on keyboard shortcuts. However, as I am such a huge believer in keyboard shortcuts, it includes loads of keyboard shortcuts for other tasks in the GUI as well. I added some other, non-Microsoft apps at the end for good measure!
Every year I watch learners with different levels of experience come to terms with the practical requirements of the CAT curriculum. Every year my message is the same: one of the most critical skills to master is simply becoming comfortable with selecting “stuff” in various scenarios.
I encourage all computer users to learn to use keyboard shortcuts above the mouse in almost all scenarios except the basics such as file and folder management which is exactly what the modern GUI was created for — or rather the mouse was created exactly for the modern GUI.
This article does not include keyboard shortcuts for inserting special characters in, for example, a Word document. I deal with that in this post.
I am working with Windows 10 with Office 2016.
- The Mouse
- The Keyboard
In the Windows GUI
A left-click generally selects the thing you left-click.
Right-click generally gives a context-sensitive menu for the thing you right-click. It is easier to right-click on something that is already selected.
Double left-click opens the thing you double-left clicked.
Left-click dragging moves the object(s) selected.
Right-click dragging offers a context-sensitive menu on release:
- Copy Here
- Move Here
- Create Shortcuts Here
Left-click dragging around and/or through a group of things (such as a list of files) selects those things. You will hear people talking about a “selection marquee”.
A left-click will select a button, tab etc while left-clicking in the text of a document places the cursor at that point in the document. Left-click dragging across text in any direction selects text or moves text that has already been selected. This is a messy method that leads to errors. Selecting text using the keyboard is a far more accurate method.
Right-click dragging a selection offers the following options:
- Move Here
- Copy Here
- Link Here
- Create Hyperlink Here
Double-left clicking in a word selects that word (and the following space if there is one). Triple left-clicking a word in a paragraph selects that paragraph. These 2 techniques are way superior to left-click dragging to select text.
The only Word mouse selections I encourage as such are:
- Left-clicking in the margin (or even off the page) to the left of a line of text to select the entire line and left-click dragging in vertically up (or down) in the margin to select multiple lines of text.
Note: the mouse pointer will be in the form of a white arrow pointing bottom-left to top-right to accomplish this.
- Double-left clicking in the header or footer area to activate the header and footer sections.
- When selecting a table, click inside the table (or hover over the table) and then left-click on the table selection handle just outside the top left-hand corner of that table:
If you have selected text or an object and you want to deselect the selection, left-click somewhere off that selection.
Double left-clicking on the grey area vertically between 2 pages in Print Layout view compacts the view by hiding the space. I don’t ever do this — in fact, I only know about it from doing it by mistake and then wondering how to fix my error!
Another advanced selection technique in Word is to select all instances of a specific style in a document. To do this, right-click the relevant style in the Quick Style Gallery on the Home ribbon and select Select All
Watch the mouse cursor closely as it will indicate at any given point what you are able to do:
- Click with the fat white plus sign in the centre of a cell to select that cell
- Left-click drag with the fat white plus sign from the centre of a cell to the centre of another cell to select a range of cells
- Use the vertical line with left and right pointing arrows to left-click drag columns wider or narrower
- Left-click with the downward pointing black arrow to select a column
- Left-click with the right pointing black arrow to select a row
- Left-click drag the horizontal line with up and down pointing arrows to make a row taller or shorter
Further to the above basic selection techniques:
- Left-clicking selects a menu tab, button, option, a cell, or a graphic element. Left-clicking on a column heading selects the entire column and obviously left-clicking on the row heading selects that entire row.
- When selecting cells or ranges with the mouse in Excel, the mouse pointer must be a fat, white plus sign.
- Left-click dragging from the centre of a cell to the centre of another cell selects a range. Left-click dragging from the centre of a column header across adjoining column headers select all those columns. The same goes for selecting multiple adjacent rows.
- Left-click dragging the border of a selected cell or range moves the contents of that cell or range of cells.
- Left-click dragging the auto-fill series handle of a cell or range copies the content or completes a series depending on the content of the original selection.
- Double left-clicking inside a cell allows you to edit the contents of the cell in the cell (instead of in the formula bar).
Importantly, selecting elements within graphic elements can be tricky. For example, clicking on a Chart selects that chart. Once the Chart is selected, clicking on a data marker selects the series of data markers. Once the series is selected, clicking on an individual data marker select just that data marker.
Many of the keyboard combinations are “toggle” shortcuts, in other words, they both activate and deactivate an action.
In the Windows GUI
- TAB moves focus in the GUI. SHIFT+TAB moves focus in reverse.
- +D displays the Windows Desktop (all open windows are minimised).
- +TAB displays thumbnails of all open windows and allows you to activate one by clicking on it…
- ALT+TAB cycles through all the open windows allowing you to change focus.
- CNTR+ALT+DEL (the three-fingered salute) offers the options: Lock, Switch User, Sign Out, Change a Password, Task Manager.
- CNTRL+A selects all the objects (files & folders) in a folder.
- Select a file or folder, hold down the SHIFT key and use the cursor keys to select multiple adjacent files or folders.
- Select on file or folder, hold down the CNTRL key, use the cursor keys to move the focus of the selector and press the SPACEBAR to select multiple non-adjacent files or folders.
- Select one file or folder and hold CNTRL down whilst left-clicking other files or folders to select non-adjacent files or folders. Select one file or folder, hold down CNTRL and click on a non-adjacent file or folder to select those files and/or folders and all those files and folders between.
Of course, the ALT key gives you access to menus in the Windows GUI and Windows applications as well as most other applications. For example, in Word:
- ALT+F opens the File menu, followed by
- ALT+A will activate the Save As option
- closes the active window in the Windows GUI, or
- if there is no active window:
The CNTRL key also weighs in with a number of invaluable shortcuts — who could get by without CNTRL+Z and CNTRL+Y, the keyboard shortcuts for Undo and Redo respectively.
- ALT activates (makes visible) the keyboard shortcuts. ALT+F for example activates the File menu. ALT+F followed by ALT+S will activate the File menu and then the Save command
- CNTRL+C copies the current selection.
- CNTRL+X cuts the current selection.
- CNTRL+V pastes last cut or copied selection.
- CNTRL+A selects everything in a document.
- SHIFT+END and SHIFT+HOME select from the cursor to the beginning of the line and the end of the line respectively.
- CNTRL+→ moves the cursor one word to the right.
- CNTRL+SHIFT+→ selects the word to the right.
- Holding SHIFT and using the cursor keys selects text moving left or right from the original cursor position. Using the up and down cursor keys while the SHIFT key is depressed selects lines of text.
- ALT+← is incredibly useful: use it to return to a hyperlink that you just clicked on in your document.
CNTRL+* is by far my favourite keyboard shortcut in Excel. If the current cell has something in it, CNTRL+* selects that cell and all adjacent cells that are not blank. This is the fastest way of selecting ranges of data in a well-designed worksheet
The cursor keys move the active cell one at a time in the relevant direction.
Holding SHIFT and using the cursor keys selects a range — keep the SHIFT key depressed until your selection is complete. This is far more accurate and less prone to “accident” than drag selecting with the mouse.
To select multiple non-adjacent cells or ranges, make a first selection then depress the CNTRL key on the keyboard and make a second (and third etc.) selection. Do not release the CNTRL key until you have completed your selection. The same technique can be used to select multiple columns or rows.
CNTRL+~ displays the actual contents of a cell (a function or formula if one is present) in the cell itself (and not just in the Formula Bar). This is very handy for troubleshooting or simply inspecting what a spreadsheet involves.
CNTRL+ENTER enters the contents of a cell without losing focus on that cell.
- TAB changes focus on the active element in a webpage.
- SHIFT+TAB does the same in reverse.
- CNTRL+TAB sequentially flicks through the tabs open in the browser.
- CNTRL+SHIFT+T will reopen tabs that have recently been closed.
Read the post Coding HTML with Notepad++ for shortcuts when using your text editor.
And now for something completely different…
By the way, if your display suddenly rotates left or right — or even upside-down — you have probably accidentally used one of the following:
- CNTRL+ALT+→ will rotate your screen 90° clockwise
- CNTRL+ALT+← will rotate your screen 90° counter-clockwise
- CNTRL+ALT+↓ will flip your screen upside-down
- CNTRL+ALT+↑ will flip your screen the right way up again.
Another relatively rare and esoteric keyboard-mouse combo is to SHIFT right-click in a Windows Explorer folder: it adds the option to open a Command Prompt open in that directory.