Navigating Text

By Deane Barker

I’m wondering if there’s any training to help users navigate text. The more I watch people work on a computer, the more I see that navigating text from the keyboard is a big time waster.

I read a big book ten years ago on Microsoft Word that taught me the basics of navigating the cursor through a body of text. Things like:

  • “CTRL-arrow” will jump you word-by-word through a line

  • “End” will take you to the end of a line

  • “CTRL-End” will take you to the end of the document

  • “Home” will take you to the beginning of a line

  • “CTRL-Home” will take you to the beginning of the document

  • “Shift-arrow” will highlight text

  • “CTRL-A” highlights all the test

  • If you have text highlighted, just start typing to replace it

After you master these, you start chaining them together.

  • “End” and one press of the right arrow gets you to the beginning of the next line.

  • “Shift-End” highlights the line after the cursor.

  • “Shift-Home” highlights the line before the cursor.

  • “Shift-up/down arrow” highlights blocks of text really fast. (Using the mouse for this always scrolls too fast and overruns what the user wants.)

The result is that, whether I’m in a text editor or Word, I can fly through a document. In contrast, I watched my wife work in the browser the other day. I told her to go to a certain URL, and she:

  1. Took the mouse and clicked in the address bar, which highlighted all the text. (Just start typing…)

  2. Pressed and held the right arrow so the cursor re-activated and went – character by character – to the end of the URL. (Shift-Home then type!!)

  3. Pressed and held backspace so the cursor – character by character – deleted the URL. (In the name of all that is good and holy, CTRL-A then type!!!)

  4. Then she started typing.

I was almost in tears by the time she was done. This happens all the time – you see users laboring to find their way around blocks of text. I want to help them, but by jumping in, I’d just confuse them in the end.

I think there’s a nice spot for an hour-long class on navigating text from the keyboard, and some common keyboard shortcuts. Not only would it improve productivity, but it would improve the user’s experience and feeling of control immensely.

This is item #213 in a sequence of 354 items.

You can use your left/right arrow keys to navigate