Back to Basics - Tips for Using Your Keyboard and Entering Text

The keyboard is as old as the first typewriter and may very well be the oldest part of your computer. Although computer innovations such as the mouse, voice-recognition, and the touch-screen have saved us from much keyboard use, it still looks like the keyboard will be around for a good while yet. People buying touch-pads are also buying keyboards for them!  In the old days, believe it or not, the rules you followed for entering text into your computer were different in each program you used. Think of it – each word processing program had different “rules” to learn in order to enter text into your computer. Today, thankfully, all programs follow the same rules when using a keyboard. So if you are using your keyboard to type an email, create a document, enter numbers in a spreadsheet, or fill in some data or text boxes on the internet, you will be following the same rules. Rather than bore you with a list of these rules, I thought I would just present a list of my most helpful keyboard tips and terms. Here they are:

Insertion point – the flashing vertical line or bar that indicates exactly where your next character will appear. This bar automatically moves as you hit keys and enter the text. Do not hit any keys on your keyboard until you know where the insertion point is. Note that if the text area is blank (that is if you are entering the first character in the text area) the insertion point can only be placed at the beginning of the text area, that is, on the far left and on the first line.

“I”-bar – a mouse cursor in an area where there is text or where text can be entered. Your mouse cursor will automatically change from an arrow to an “I-bar” in a text area. You can move this I-bar with your mouse, place it BETWEEN characters, click the left mouse button, and you will have placed your INSERTION POINT (see above) where you click.

The arrow keys (up, down, left, right) will move the insertion point in that direction IF there is text there.

You cannot move the insertion point beyond the last character entered in a text area. You can, however, enter blank characters, (by hitting the space bar), tab characters (by hitting the tab key), or go to a new line (by hitting the enter key), and the insertion point will move accordingly (see “control characters” below). This can be confusing. Some people wonder why they cannot just place the insertion point anywhere they want on a blank page any start typing. Sorry, but word processors do not work that way. A word processor does NOT see a blank page like a grid with positions everywhere on it for putting characters. If you think about it, a word processor has the capability to reformat the text to allow all the text to be printed on pages with narrow or wide margins. So the word processor sees only a single long string of text characters. Some of the characters in this long string are control characters. What’s a control character you ask?  Well, let me tell you.

Control characters tell the printer (or the monitor screen) where to position for the next printed character on the paper and within the margins. These characters are part of your document but are not printed on the paper. For example, hitting the spacebar enters a space character and hitting the “tab” key enters a tab character. Entering a “tab” character will usually enter a blank space on the line about a half an inch long. In other words, hitting the “tab” key will move the insertion point one half inch to the right. Hitting the “Enter” key will go to a new line. Because of these characters your text will look nice whether it is printed between narrow or wide margins. The word processor formats the text to fit while obeying the control characters. The printed text will flow from one line to the next whether the margins are wide or narrow (text wrapping). Think about it – would you want to re-type your document every time the margins change?  So a word processor will neatly flow the text from one line to the next.

Holding down any key on the keyboard will quickly repeat that character. Be careful, I said “quickly”!

On laptops, you may wish to turn off the “mouse pad” while you are typing. On many laptop keyboards, the mouse pad is positioned where the heel of your hand or bottom of your thumb may hit it and move your insertion point to someplace else while you are trying to type your text. Most mouse pads on laptops have different functions in different areas of the pad. For example, the right edge of a mouse pad may be used to scroll up or down. Thus, the base of your hand may hit the pad and have confusing effects on the screen. To turn off your mouse pad you will have to consult the instructions that came with your laptop. Most mouse pads are turned off and on using a function key (one of the “F” keys at the top of your keyboard), perhaps in combination with another key on your keyboard such as the “Ctrl” or “Alt” keys. Some laptop mouse pads are automatically turned off when you plug in a mouse.

The “Insert” key, if pressed, will put you into the “overtype” mode in which you are REPLACING characters as you type. Hit the Insert key again to turn this off. Many people find this “overtype” mode confusing, not noticing what is happening until they see characters have been DELETED while they are typing new characters. I never use the “insert” or “overtype” option.

The “Caps Lock” key, as on the old typewriters, will enter all upper case letters. Hit the Caps Lock key again to turn this option off. Notice if your keyboard has a light that comes on if a certain mode of typing has been activated. For example, when you hit the “Caps Lock” key, a light on your keyboard may be turned on to indicate that you are now in the “All caps” or all uppercase mode.

Almost all passwords are case sensitive. If there is an upper case (capital) letter in your password, then it ALWAYS must be entered in upper case.

Save your work often. If you do not, you could lose everything you have entered before your last save. Most emails may automatically save your work as a “draft” until you send your email. In Gmail, as I compose or write my email, it is automatically saved every ten or fifteen seconds to my email draft folder. When I send the email, the draft copy is automatically deleted and saved in the “sent mail” folder. Check your email program’s “help” instructions to understand about auto-saving your email as you type.

If your keyboard is not working, first check to make sure it is properly connected. If you have a wireless keyboard, make sure it is turned on and that the batteries are good.

Keyboards come in many styles and types (no pun intended), so find one that is comfortable for you. I even have a rubber keyboard that can be rolled up for easy storage or transport, but it certainly does not feel comfortable to use.

By the way, Windows 7 comes with “speech recognition” which you can try if you like. I gave it a try and found that it took some getting used to. It is nice to know it is there if you need it, but I went back to my keyboard – I guess I am just that “type” of guy.

There are many other keyboard tips and tricks. The keyboard will allow you to enter “shortcuts” or menu commands for many software programs. Check the “help” for each program you use to learn what keyboard commands are available. No matter what “type” of person you are, there are always keys to help.