Advice · Technology

Mac and PC Keyboard Shortcuts (by special request)

A former colleague emailed me earlier this week, asking about keyboard shortcuts on the Mac:

“Just wondering if you use keyboard shortcuts much on the Mac? For some reason I have never really used them. I find the symbols confusing and maybe because my Mac is mostly used for leisure and Windows shortcuts are so ingrained in my mind. Just curious.”

My quick reply was: “yes, but not as much as in Windows”, and I then drafted another 800 words which have developed into this 1100-word piece. He and I have both spent much of our working lives on IT Projects (mostly Windows) and delivering training to corporate clients. He is a gifted trainer, and like many good trainers he has found more profitable work in other areas of IT.

I had thought about drafting something along these lines before. This piece touches on aspects of learning and day-to-day computer use that frequently cross my mind, and it echoes some of the things I wrote about here (“Nothing, something, everything”).

I think often about competence and excellence, or expertise. In many endeavours competence is good enough. Being competent at driving a car, or singing a song, or cooking a meal, is good enough. You might become an excellent driver, singer or cook but first you have to be competent. Most people who use computers in their work are competent at it.

Over the years I have acquired expertise in using Office Applications (especially spreadsheets and word processing). I even have certifications and Certiport test scores to prove it. Much of that expertise developed through people asking me questions. Having learnt all the features I needed to use I then had to go further to pass various exams, and to answer questions from clients and colleagues. There are software features that I have had to answer questions about in exams that have never come up in my day-to-day working life. (In over 20 years of working with word processing and publishing Apps nobody has ever asked me how to create a Table of Authorities.)

One area of expertise that saves me a lot of time is extensive use of keyboard shortcuts. This is where we came in. On a Windows PC I rarely have to use a mouse or touchpad. I can do just about everything with keystrokes, often accessing old menu commands with Alt-key combinations. On a Mac, however, I need to use the touchpad and menu systems far more often, and this takes longer.

Alt-key combinations in Windows-based versions of Microsoft Office

All versions of Office up to 2003 were menu-based (File, Edit, View and so on) and although menu items moved around from one version to another you could work through each menu to find any item you were looking for. You could also access the menus with Alt-key combinations. Many of these combinations were based on the first letter of the required menu and item (like Alt V, N for View, Normal) but not all of them were. Alt + O would access the Format menu: Alt O, O is the combination for Format, Object (which I have had to use often). Alt T, I is the combination for Tools, Templates & Add-ins.

In Office 2007 the menus were replaced by the “Fluent User Interface” (the Ribbon, containing Tabs like Home, View and so on) but the old Alt-key combinations still worked for most of the old menu items. They still do, even in later versions of Office, so you can access features using the old menu commands, if you know what the Alt-key combinations are. This still saves me time whenever I use Windows-based Office. Alt T, I will always be quicker than going to the Developer Tab (if it’s displayed) and finding the Templates & Add-ins command there, which is the “Fluent User Interface” alternative.

Accessing Menus via the keyboard on a Mac

As far as I can see Windows-style Alt-key combinations are not available in Mac versions of Office. I currently use Office 2011, which has both the old menu system and the Ribbon, and usually access menu commands through the touchpad (I don’t even have a mouse connected to my Mac). This keyboard combination will also access the Menu bar: ^F2 (if this doesn’t work check the settings in Apple Menu (), System Preferences, Keyboard, Keyboard & Text…); on my Mac Book Pro keyboard ^F2 means pressing Fn + Ctrl + F2 simultaneously. This will “Move focus to the menu bar” and from there you can use the arrow keys to navigate to the required menu and item. Up till now I have found this more time-consuming than using the touchpad, and both methods are more time-consuming than Alt-key combinations in Windows.

Mac OS shortcuts

On a Mac many of the standard Office commands in Windows (such as F2 to edit a cell in Excel, or F3 to expand AutoText in Word) are reserved by the Mac OS. F2 increases screen brightness, F3 toggles between displaying all open Apps and the current window. I haven’t found a way to make F2 and F3 behave the way that they do in Windows versions of Office so have changed how I work. I use the touchpad to begin editing cells in Excel (double-click on the cell, or click on the formula bar) and in Word I have assigned Shift + ⌘ + R to expand AutoText (via Tools, Customize Keyboard).

Straightforward Ctrl-key / ⌘-key combinations

Many of the day-to-day Ctrl-key combinations in Windows are the same on a Mac, using the ⌘ (or Cmd) key instead.

I have usually explained the most common functions in groups:

Ctrl (or ⌘) with B, I or U will activate Bold, Italic or Underline;

Ctrl (or ⌘) with N, O, S, or P invokes New, Open, Save or Print (all, traditionally in the File menu);

Ctrl (or ⌘) with Z, X, C or V (and those keys are next to each other on the keyboard) equate with Undo, Cut, Copy or Paste (from the Edit menu).

If you have used these keyboard combinations in Windows it is easy enough to switch on the Mac: just use ⌘ instead of Ctrl.

Useful keyboard shortcuts that took me a while to find

I have now been using Office 2011 on a Mac for over two years but have found the following keyboard shortcuts only in the last few months.

Fn + ⌘ + Up / Down Arrows: these work the same as Ctrl PgUp / PgDn win Windows: in Excel they take you to the previous or next sheet, and in Word to the last or next item you searched for (I use this a lot, in both Apps).

⌘ + ` (that grave accent key, to the left of Z on my keyboard): the Mac equivalent of Ctrl + F6 in Windows (next Window in the current App), though occasionally I hit ⌘ + Z (Undo) accidentally.

Headings in Word: Alt + ⌘ and 1, 2 or 3 for Heading 1, 2 or 3 (in Windows this is Ctrl + Alt + 1, 2 or 3).

Change Case in Word: ⌘ ^C, (or ⌘ + Alt + C on my Mac Book Pro), this is the equivalent of Shift + F3 in Windows.

Create AutoText in Word: highlight text, Fn + Alt + F3, equivalent of Alt + F3 in Windows.

Special Characters

#: Fn + Alt + 3, this is the only non-alphanumeric character I use regularly that isn’t on the Mac keyboard otherwise.

Force Quit and Screen Shots

To Force Quit an App:

Choose Force Quit from the Apple menu, or Alt + ⌘ + Esc, select the unresponsive app and click Force Quit.

For Screenshots:

Shift + ⌘+ 3 captures the whole screen.

Shift + ⌘ + 4 captures a rectangular screen range (click and drag to define the range).

In each case a PNG (Graphics) file will be created on your Desktop containing the screenshot.



2 thoughts on “Mac and PC Keyboard Shortcuts (by special request)

  1. It is possible to make Mac function keys behave like Windows function keys, at least it is in OSX 10.11.4 – El Capitan. I only found this out last week while setting up a Windows Virtual Machine. In the Apple menu, go to System Preferences…, then Keyboard and in the Keyboard tab (not really a tab) there’s an option ‘Use F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys’. This reverses the use of the Fn key so to change brightness, volume etc you’ll need to press the fn key inconjunction with the numbered function key.


    1. Bingo (up to a point). F3 still doesn’t seem to Expand AutoText in Word (though Alt + F3, just like in Windows, will create a New AutoText entry when you have text highlighted), and F2 still doesn’t Edit Cell in Excel. Or am I missing something?


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