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Microsoft Office: Selecting Secrets

Stop the Runaway Mouse

computer mouse, selecting text, mouse tricks, tips and tricksWhat's the "runaway mouse?" You've seen may have even yelled at your computer when it happened. All you want to do is select (highlight) some text or data in a Microsoft Office document by dragging your mouse. Suddenly, your mouse has a mind of it's own and moves too far too fast. I've even heard people shout out "Whoa!" as they try to handle the out of control mouse.

What should you do? First, stop dragging your mouse! To stop the "runaway mouse" add some keyboard shortcuts. To begin, move to the top of the area you want to highlight. Then, press and hold down [Shift]. Move to the end of the area by pressing any directional keys such as the [Down] arrow or [Page Down]. Keep holding down [Shift] and continue moving to the end of text or data that you want to highlight. When you have the area you want then perform the next action: formatting, editing, etc.

Still like the mouse? Press and hold [Shift] and click to pick the end of the selection area even if it is at the end of the document. The key is not to drag; use the scroll bar if you need to make big moves.

Excel bonus: Okay, I admit there is a dragging trick in Excel. Instead of pulling harder on the mouse to move to the end of the selection, stop on the scroll bar. If you hop on and ride the scroll bar and gently pull the mouse, you can easily maintain control.

Easy Keyboard Selection Secret

Even better than the [Shift] key is a hidden selection trick. I compare this to taking the measurements of a large room--it's much easier with a friend holding the measuring tape at one end while you take your time to move to the other end. Ever have a measuring tape snap back when you try this yourself? The hidden trick is the [F8] function key.

To use this selection trick, simply:

  1. Move to beginning of the selection area.
  2. Press [F8] once.
  3. Look in the bottom center or left corner of your status bar for Extend Selection (EXT in Office 2003 and earlier); don't expect anything to flash or pop up.
  4. Take your time moving to the end of the selection area with your keyboard and/or the mouse.
  5. Perform the action to the selected area such as formatting, cut, copy, etc. The Extend Selection  mode turns off as soon as you do an action. Just move anywhere to clear the highlight. What if you change your mind and you want to turn off the Extend Selection without continuing? In Excel, press [F8] again or press [Esc]. In Word, press [Esc] to cancel. Move anywhere to clear the highlight.

Selecting Multiple Items

To select more than one item such as 2 different paragraphs in Word, 4 cells in Excel, 3 graphics in PowerPoint, or 10 files in Windows Explorer, choose either [Shift] or [Ctrl]. The basic steps work in Microsoft Office, Windows Explorer, and many other Windows programs.

To select a contiguous (touching) area use [Shift]:

  1. Click once on the first item.
  2. Press and hold [Shift].
  3. Click on the last item that you want to highlight and everything in between will also be selected.
  4. Perform an action such as formatting.

To select non-contiguous (unrelated) items use [Ctrl]:

  1. Click one on the first item.
  2. Press and hold [Ctrl] and, click on each of the other items, press [Ctrl] again to unselect.
  3. Perform the action to finish working with the highlighted area. Some ideas for these options:
  • Pick files from File > Open to open all of these at the same time in your Microsoft Office program.
  • Choose multiple slides in the PowerPoint slide sorter to apply a transition.
  • Highlight groups of cells or sections of text and apply formatting.
  • Select drawing objects to group, move, or change formatting.

Selecting Tricks in Word With the Selection Bar

Have you ever used the selection bar? Just think of this as the left margin of your Word document. To locate the selection bar area, move your mouse to the left of text until it changes from an upper case "I" to a white arrow. Selection tricks to try with the selection bar:

  • Click once to highlight entire line.
  • Double-click to select the whole paragraph.
  • Triple-click (can you do it?) to highlight the entire document (great for overall changes such as font formatting).

Easy Select All

To make changes to an entire document or file, press [Ctrl] + A to Select All or choose File > Select All (if available).

More Selecting Shortcuts in Word & Excel

Want more ways to use the Word selection bar, the [F8] extend selection key, and other tricks to highlight your data? For instance, did you know that [Ctrl] + a mouse click will highlight an entire sentence? Check out these handouts:

Microsoft Word - Selecting Text Tricks

Microsoft Excel - Moving & Selecting Keyboard Shortcuts

Dawn Bjork Buzbee, MCT, The Software Pro

Dawn Bjork Buzbee is The Software Pro and a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) as well as a certified Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Master Instructor, certified Microsoft Applications Specialist (MCAS) Instructor, and a certified Microsoft Office expert. Dawn shares smart and easy ways to effectively use software through her work as a software speaker, trainer, consultant, and author of 8 books.

This article and more can be reprinted at no charge in your publications and website with copyright and attribution.
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Hot Office Tip
Press [F8] to turn on the extend selection mode. Move to highlight and press [Esc] to cancel.
Did You Know?
Press and hold [Shift] while moving to highlight text that you want to change.
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