Most of us will already be using Ctrl, Alt, Del to access the Windows login screen (or more likely, the Task Manager to end an unresponsive app); while Ctrl, S to save a document and Ctrl, C and Ctrl, V to copy and paste are other common commands. But there are tons of helpful shortcuts that can make creating, navigating and formatting documents a breeze. We'll be your guide.

Those of us familiar with desktop-publishing software will know how useful keyboard shortcuts can be for speeding up almost any process. No doubt, like me, you pine for the same functionality in Microsoft Word, Excel and the programs you use every day.

Most of us will already be using Ctrl, Alt, Del to access the Windows login screen (or more likely, the Task Manager to end an unresponsive app); while Ctrl, S to save a document and Ctrl, C and Ctrl, V to copy and paste are other common commands. But there are tons of helpful shortcuts that can make creating, navigating and formatting documents a breeze.

The chances are you work on the same few programs most of the time. And in each, you probably know a fair few shortcut keys that enable you to quickly jump from point to point on the page or to take you to the item you need.

Many of these shortcuts can be applied to most of the other programs you fire up. For example, Microsoft Word's formatting commands Ctrl, B and Ctrl, I will also turn text bold or italic in any other text editor. And they're applicable regardless of whether you're using Windows, Linux or Mac OS X.

In the following workshop we'll look at shortcuts and timesavers for a variety of programs. Follow our advice to ramp up your productivity and free up your time for more creative pursuits.

Using alphabetical shortcuts

Many shortcuts correlate to a letter of the alphabet: hence Ctrl, A to select all, Ctrl, C to copy, Ctrl, P to print and Ctrl, F to find. Ctrl, N creates a new document in most apps while Ctrl, O opens an existing one.

To left-align the text of a paragraph, ensure your cursor is blinking somewhere within it and hit Ctrl, L, while Ctrl, R will line up all the text to the right, leaving the ragged edges of each line on the left. You can force the alignment of both sides using Ctrl, J for justify.

Some of these options will be very familiar, but the rule is that many text editors and photo editors, including Adobe's Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, make heavy use of alphabetical command-based shortcuts. So if you don't know a specific shortcut command, it's worth trying what seems the obvious correlating letter.

The big exceptions are Ctrl, Z to undo and Ctrl, Y to redo - some programs (including Microsoft Word) allow multiple undo and redo commands, while others instead use Ctrl, Z to alternately undo and redo the same action.

It's not just the Ctrl (or Apple key on a Mac) key that can be used to invoke shortcuts. The F keys that sit at the top of your keyboard are invaluable, as is the Alt button. The Windows key and Alt Gr also have their uses. For example, Alt Gr, 4 in Word produces the euro symbol.

Alt, Tab on the desktop allows you to toggle between open applications, while Ctrl, T can be used in a web browser to open a new tab or window, allowing you to perform a new web search or visit another website without abandoning one you still need to consult. You can bookmark an item in Firefox using Ctrl, D - ideal for ensuring you can quickly browse to pcadvisor.co.uk, of course. And if you decide that you prefer navigating the web using the arrow keys rather than other means, you can specify
as much under Tools, Options, General.

Many shortcuts require you to have highlighted or otherwise selected the item to which the command is to be applied. For example, there's no point hitting a key combination to apply a formatting command to nothing. As well as Ctrl, A to select everything, you can quickly select a word by double-clicking with your mouse or the whole paragraph by triple-clicking the left mouse button.

To add a page break, try Ctrl, Enter, while Microsoft Office 2007 users can quickly add page numbers and footers using the key combination Alt N, N, U.

If all this formatting is getting too much, press Ctrl, Shift, 8 to view invisible characters and Ctrl, spacebar to remove the unwanted formatting.

Double-click a word and then right-click with your mouse for options such as synonyms and dictionary definitions, and to hyperlink or anchor the item in the text. For an instant spellcheck, press F7. Word highlights in red any misspelled words or items it doesn't recognise.

Some programs let you assign your own shortcut keys - you just need to be sure that those you specify aren't about to overwrite another key combination you're likely to need. In Word, the easiest way to assign your own shortcuts is by going to the Tools, Customize menu and choosing the Commands tab. Word displays a list of actions with which you can associate your own shortcut.

Another useful option is found in the Customize, Toolbars menu. Here, you can opt to display only those items you need for a specific type of document. Microsoft offers presets that you can adjust for drawing tasks, extended formatting and, usefully, showing the Fn keys and what they are used for. You can also create your own toolbar from scratch and give it a memorable name.

>> NEXT PAGE: Useful shortcuts

Also see:

Get to grips with macros

Automate PDF conversion and search faster

Most of us will already be using Ctrl, Alt, Del to access the Windows login screen (or more likely, the Task Manager to end an unresponsive app); while Ctrl, S to save a document and Ctrl, C and Ctrl, V to copy and paste are other common commands. But there are tons of helpful shortcuts that can make creating, navigating and formatting documents a breeze. We'll be your guide.

Useful shortcuts

The following shortcuts work in Microsoft Word and other text editors. Where a state change is made, it is generally to the highlighted area or to the paragraph in which the cursor currently resides.

Ctrl, A: Select all
Ctrl, B: Bold
Ctrl, C: Copy
Ctrl, D: Change font
Ctrl, E: Centre text
Ctrl, F: Find
Ctrl, G: Go to
Ctrl, H: Find and replace
Ctrl, I: Italicise selection
Ctrl, K: Insert link
Ctrl, L: Left-align paragraph
Ctrl, N: New document
Ctrl, O: Open
Ctrl, P: Print the document (or open the Print dialog box to print a selection)

The following shortcuts will make navigation nippier in Firefox and Internet Explorer.

Alt, Home: Go to home page
Alt, left arrow, spacebar: Back a page
Alt, right arrow, spacebar: Forward a page
Home: Go to top of page
End: Go to bottom of web page
Ctrl, D: Bookmarks the current page
Ctrl, Shift, D: Bookmarks all current tabs
Tab: Toggles between tabs
Ctrl, H: Brings up the History list
Ctrl, L: Selects everything in the URL bar Ctrl, Shift, Del: Deletes browsing history
Ctrl, +: Zoom into web page
Ctrl, -: Zoom out (holding down Ctrl and using the mouse's scrollwheel can also be used to zoom)
F11: View full-screen
Ctrl, O: Open a new web page

Several Firefox shortcuts are similar to those in a word processor.

Ctrl, F: Lets you enter a keyword to find
Ctrl, S: Saves the page
Ctrl, P: Prints the web page

>> NEXT PAGE: Get to grips with macros

Also see:

Using alphabetical shortcuts

Automate PDF conversion and search faster

Most of us will already be using Ctrl, Alt, Del to access the Windows login screen (or more likely, the Task Manager to end an unresponsive app); while Ctrl, S to save a document and Ctrl, C and Ctrl, V to copy and paste are other common commands. But there are tons of helpful shortcuts that can make creating, navigating and formatting documents a breeze. We'll be your guide.

Get to grips with Macros

A macro is a means of automating a series of actions so you don't need to endlessly perform the same set of tasks. Most Microsoft Office programs support macros, so you can set them up and run them in anything from Word or Excel to PowerPoint or Access.

Note, however, that macros allow actions to execute - something that virus writers have fully exploited. If you want to send a document to someone, you should turn off macros. You should also set your email client and security settings to disable macros or to quarantine any email messages with macro attachments.

You can record a macro to automate a series of steps within Word to help you work faster. You might use a macro to add special formatting. When you record a macro, Word captures every keystroke you make and creates a macro from these steps. To begin, select Tools, Macro, Record New Macro.

Enter a name for the macro and specify where it's to be stored. If you want the macro to be available to all documents, choose the Normal.dot template file. Now choose where to assign the Macro, in this case Keyboard, by clicking the appropriate button.

The Customise Keyboard box will now open. Click in the Press New Shortcut Key field, choose the key combination you want to activate your macro and the location for the keyboard command, then click Assign. Click Close to begin recording your macro.

With the recording toolbar displayed, simply type in whatever you want to record as your macro. Hit the Stop button when you've finished. Word will create your macro and you can activate it whenever you use the assigned shortcut.

Place a macro button in a toolbar and you won't need to remember special key combinations to invoke them. Note that you can create the toolbar when you create the macro (or at a later stage), but you can't later assign a shortcut key to a macro that has a toolbar entry.

Click on Tools, Customise and select the Commands tab. Select Macros from the list of Categories. Choose the storage location as before, then select the macro you want to add to the toolbar from the list of Commands. Drag the macro to where you want it on the toolbar.

Word will automatically create a button and label it with the name of the selected macro. To change the name of the Macro button, click the Modify Selection button and type in a new name, then click Close.

>> NEXT PAGE: Automate PDF conversion and search faster

Also see:

Using alphabetical shortcuts

Useful shortcuts

Most of us will already be using Ctrl, Alt, Del to access the Windows login screen (or more likely, the Task Manager to end an unresponsive app); while Ctrl, S to save a document and Ctrl, C and Ctrl, V to copy and paste are other common commands. But there are tons of helpful shortcuts that can make creating, navigating and formatting documents a breeze. We'll be your guide.

Automate PDF conversion

PDFs are useful documents as they contain smartly formatted pages with text, graphics and hyperlinks to web pages and contact email addresses, and can't be easily plagiarised or edited. Sometimes, however, you want to make legitimate use of the information in a PDF and don't want to have to retype everything in it.

There are various PDF editing programs that allow you to strip out content (depending on the copyright and editing controls applied by the document's author), but the free, web-based PDF to Word tool is one of the simplest.

Upload a PDF and choose an output format: Word or RTF (rich text format). Then sit tight while the service works its magic, eventually sending you an email with a link to download the converted document.

Word has an advantage over RTF in that conversions end up looking remarkably similar to the original PDF files, but RTF may suit you better if you need a broad set of people to be able to view the contents.

Speedier searches

It's more efficient to have a search engine embedded in your web browser page than head to Google or Yahoo's home page whenever you need to look something up online. You can make these embedded search tools better with Inquisitor, a free plug-in that displays fast, polished results as you type your query.

Simply install the plug-in, restart your browser, then start typing in the search field as you would normally.

Now, however, each keystroke brings search results, suggestions and shortcuts to other search engines. All that information appears in a slick-looking black box, enhanced with search-history flags that help you quickly zero in on sites you've visited before.

Inquisitor makes Yahoo your browser's default search engine. You can switch this by clicking Search Options at the bottom of an Inquisitor results list.

The CyberSearch extension for Firefox offers similar capabilities, as does Google Chrome's address bar. Of course, Google Toolbar users have long enjoyed such search-as-you-type goodness, although without the same flair.

Also see:

Using alphabetical shortcuts

Useful shortcuts

Get to grips with macros