Fully functional

Do you ever bother using the row of function keys at the top of your keyboard? I thought as much. You might know &lt F1 &gt for Windows help or &lt F7 &gt to start spellchecking, but there are plenty more useful function key features hidden in Microsoft Office. Take the &lt F1 &gt key, for example. &lt F1 &gt opens the Help task pane, while &lt Ctrl &gt - &lt F1&gt opens and closes whatever task pane you had open last.

Pressing &lt F12 &gt for "Save As" is a lot quicker than finding it on the menu or hitting &lt Al &gt then F then A. Use &lt Shift &gt -F3 to cycle selected words in a Word document through different case settings. Why would you want to do that? Well, it saves a huge amount of time if you accidentally hit the &lt Caps Lock &gt button instead of &lt Shift &gt or if you find you hold &lt Shift &gt down for the first two letters of a word instead of just the first (and you've disabled Word's AutoCorrect function).

Shift of emphasis

Just as useful is &lt Shift &gt - &lt F5 &gt . Press it when you first open a document and the cursor jumps to the last change you made. So handy for getting back to where you left off.

Keep pressing &lt F8 &gt and Word selects an entire word, then a sentence, then a paragraph and so on. You have to press &lt Esc &gt to turn the selection mode off if you decide you don't need it after all (or once you've counted the words in your selection) but if you format or move the text you're ready to keep on working. Use &lt Shift &gt - &lt F8 &gt to make a selection smaller and &lt Ctrl &gt - &lt Shift &gt - &lt F8 &gt to get a vertical selection (this last function requires mouse input to draw the area you want selected).

Key commands

There are plenty more useful function keys in all of the Office applications, and you'll find a full list of them in the Help section for each program - type "keyboard shortcuts" or "function keys" into the Help box for a rundown. Some function keys are the same in each program - mainly the ones to navigate between windows and save files.

Word 2003 also has a handy toolbar that you can display at the bottom of the window to show you what all the function keys do at any given time. It changes if you're in a table, for example, and it's a great way of learning the function key commands. Press &lt Shift &gt , &lt Alt &gt or &lt Ctrl &gt to see what the modified function keys do and, if it's awkward to use them on a laptop with a small keyboard, you can click them in the toolbar instead (see screen shot).

Unlike most other toolbars, you can't turn it on and off by choosing from the list you see when you right-click on a blank section of any toolbar. That's because it's not in the list, not even if it's already turned on. Instead, you need to click View-Toobars-Customise, (or right-click on the toolbar area at the top of the screen and select Customise from the list that appears). Look down the list of options in the window that appears for "Function key Display" and then check the radio box next to it and click Close it to show the toolbar (see this screen shot).

Suit yourself

If you don't find the commands assigned to the function keys particularly useful, you can reuse them. On the Commands tab of the Customise dialogue, click Keyboard. The Customise keyboard dialogue lists more than just the menu commands - nearly all the options on toolbars and in dialogue boxes are here as well, assigned to the appropriate category, as shown in this image. For example, in the Tools category, the "ToolsWordCountRecount Command" is the same as pressing the Recount Button on the Word Count toolbar. When you choose a command, you can see if it already has a shortcut key and change it by typing the new shortcut into the "Press new shortcut" key field. You can incorporate function keys if you like.

Word reminds you if the key combination you've chosen is already in use - if it is, click Assign to change it. So, if you'd find &lt Ctrl &gt - &lt Shift &gt - &lt F10 &gt easier to remember for counting words than &lt Ctrl &gt - &lt shift &gt -R, you can alter it here.

LONG DOCS

In Excel you can split the window - click Window-Split and resize the top window to only show the top row then choose Window-Freeze Panes to keep your headings visible as you scroll. You can do much the same thing in Word when printing tables that go over more than one page. Click anywhere in the table and choose Table-Heading Rows Repeat to turn it on or off - look for the tick when it's selected.

You won't see any change on screen on Normal or Web Layout view, only when you go into Print Layout view, Print Preview and when you print the document. Remember, even though you can see the table headers on every page, you can only edit them on the first one.

If you don't need to see all the information at once, in Excel you can use Data-Filter-AutoFilter to turn your headings into drop-down menus that list all the unique entries in each column. Pick one of the options from your new menu and you'll get all the lines that include that entry, or choose Custom to get more complex matches. In Word 2003, if you use Data-List-Create List you automatically get AutoFiltered headings on your list.

SYMBOLS AND STRANGE CHARACTERS

Even brand new keyboards don't always include characters like overseas currency symbols like pound signs, euros and yen signs, let alone all the special characters or mathematical symbols in most fonts. If you've got a good head for numbers you can memorise the ASCII character codes and type them in by hand: make sure Num Lock is on (press &lt Num Lock &gt once if it isn't), hold down &lt Alt &gt and type in the code on the numeric keypad - say, 0128 for the euro. The symbol appears as soon as you let go of the &lt Alt &gt key.

That's fine for the symbols you need the most if you can remember them, but it's a lot easier to use Insert-Symbol, which works in pretty much every Office app and shows you exactly what you'll get. Symbols you've used recently are all shown in a list at the bottom, so you don't always have to scroll through the whole lot. Click on Insert-Symbol (or hit &lt Alt &gt then I, then S), and pick the one you need. It also tells you what the shortcut combination is for each character, as well as the ASCII numerical code if you'd prefer to use these instead.

The Symbol dialogue box is the easiest way to insert unusual characters - change character codes to decimal if you want to learn them. See the box here.

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