In reply to a few readers…

By | April 25, 2016
This content is 8 years old. Please, read this page keeping its age in mind. Thank you.

First of all I wanted to say thanks to everyone who entered the “Selfie competition” a couple of weeks ago – we’ve just drawn the winning entry out of a hat and have already sent an email to the winner to ask which free, signed book they’d like – but thank you to everyone who entered, whether you won or not!

Last time I wrote a bit about the Function keys – the F keys across the top of the keyboard.

I was talking about how using them on laptops can be a bit confusing and why. And I mentioned that in most programs, pressing F1 brings up a help screen and in a web browser F5 refreshes the page.

Afterward, I heard from several people asking if I could go over what some of the other function keys do, which seemed like a good question to me – so I thought I’d write about it today.

I should say, though, that in theory they can do different things in every program, depending on what the people who made that program decided. In practice, they do tend to give them similar uses in different programs, so it’s not too confusing.

So here’s a list of what they usually do – don’t feel you need to learn them all, though. I don’t use all of them myself, and I tend to use lots of keyboard shortcuts! But it’s worth having a look through the list and seeing what might be useful to you, then trying those out.

F1 – brings up the program’s built in help screen. In some programs, if you press it with some text selected, it’ll give you help based on that – and in fact in some programs it’ll try to bring up help relevant to what you’re doing, rather than just the main help contents screen for that program.

F2 – If you’re in file explorer or something similar and you’ve got a particular file, photo or whatever selected, pressing F2 lets you rename it. It’s the same as right clicking on the file and choosing rename (but slightly quicker).

F3 – This usually brings up a search box. If you don’t have a program running it’ll bring up a box that lets you search your PC, if you’re in a word processor it’ll let you search for a particular bit of text in the document and if you’re browsing the web it’ll let you search the current webpage for a particular word or phrase – not searching the whole web for it.

F4 – doesn’t have many uses but in Internet Explorer it’ll take you straight to the address bar, ready to type in a web address, saving you from having to click in it. (But have a look at F6 below before you use it.)

F5 – this refreshes the web page you’re on. Useful if it hasn’t loaded properly or if it’s a page of fast changing news and you want to see if it’s been updated. It can also be useful if your computer is remembering an old version of the page instead of getting the new one – PCs do that to save time and usually it’s helpful but occasionally it means you haven’t got the latest version of a webpage. If you’re having trouble with a web page not working, it’s usually a good idea to try pressing F5 to see if refreshing it helps.

F6 – does much the same as F4, but works in other web browsers as well. If you want to use a shortcut like this I’d use this instead of F4 so you’re learning one that works if you swap to a different browser.

F7 – in some Microsoft programs (and probably some others), runs a spellcheck. A lot of programs check the spelling as you go, underlining suspect words in red, but this makes it go through the whole thing and warn you about any words it thinks might be misspelled.

F8 – In some spreadsheet programs this lets you edit the cell you currently have selected, instead of clicking in the box at the top where you can edit it.

F9 – doesn’t have any common features.

F10 – If you’re using Internet Explorer and the menu bar (the one with File, Edit and so on) is hidden, this makes it appear.

F11 – If you’re browsing the web, this puts you into full screen mode, where all the menus and so on disappear to give you more room for the webpage. It can be nicer if you’re reading a page full of text, to get rid of the distractions. And if you don’t have a very big monitor and there’s a lot of text, full screen mode can fit more on at a reasonably size. Press F11 again to get back to normal mode. There’s no harm in giving it a try and seeing if you like it – just don’t forget that it’s F11 to get back to normal.

F12 – In some Microsoft programs, brings up the “save as” window, that lets you give the document a new name and save it.

Phew – that’s enough to be going on with, but there are also some key combinations that use the function keys, where you hold down shift or Alt or ctrl (or more than one of them) while you tap a particular function key. I’ll talk about some of those next time – including one that I used to recommend everyone should know. It’s not quite as crucial as it used to be, but it’s still worth knowing.

34 thoughts on “In reply to a few readers…

  1. Graham Thorley

    Thank you, Tim, for another very informative letter. In particular, understanding the use of F11. Most useful! I really look forward to receiving your notes and find them most informative.

  2. Pamshipp

    I have an ipad and only use it for emails and occasional
    Use for recipes or finding spares for garden equipment etc.
    I use the camera but not sure about how to do ebay. etc.

  3. susannah HILL

    thank you Tim, as a new member, I was interested to know about the F keys.!

    1. Tim Post author

      You’re welcome – good to know they’re proving helpful!

  4. Rowland Pantling

    We have iMAC and iPad so don’t know if this info is relevant.

    1. Tim Post author

      On the Mac, there are Function keys, but they don’t do the same things. Most of them don’t do anything in general, unless you’re in a particular program that’s set up to use them.
      But you usually find that F9 shows the different programs you have open (if it’s more than one), F11 takes you to the desktop and F12 shows the “dashboard” – handy little programs you might want to use now and then, like a calculator.
      One some macs you have to hold down the Fn key while you press them to make the function keys work.
      Hope that helps

  5. Angela Bray

    Thanks Tim for a really useful newsletter. You say that the key F9 has no common features but it does have one very important feature for users like me who insert fields into documents and that is by pressing F9 the fields are automatically updated. For instance, insert a Table Of Contents or Figures created from Headings that you have applied, then as you progress through your document by clicking anywhere in the TOC and pressing F9 it is automatically updated.

    Best wishes

    1. Mike – The Helpful Book Company

      Hi Angela

      I’m picking up messages on here for Tim this week.

      Thank you for the tip! It sounds like that use of F9 works in Microsoft Office and in OpenOffice/LiberaOffice. Good to know!



  6. pearl prisley

    Thanks so much Tim. Always wondered what those keys were for and I’m going to find them very useful – as is all your information. Please, keep it coming. Several years ago I learned how to use a computer just from your books. ( I learned nothing from the 2 courses I took and I was on the verge of giving up when I found you.)

    Bless you.


  7. Gillian Goss

    I use F2 a lot in Excel to change the content of a cell

  8. Joe Jones

    Thanks for all the info
    One thing if you don’t mind, just purchased your Android Phones 1 step at a time and have a LG-4K where it has a Clear all button. All the open Apps clear except for the Text Messaging App which remains on the home screen unless I press the 0 button. The Clear All stays greyed out for this, any ideas would be appreciated


    1. Tim Wakeling Post author

      my reply to this seems to have disappeared (we’ve just moved this part of the website to a new system and as far as I can tell this reply was the only thing to disappear!) so here goes – I’ll see if I can remember what I said:
      I think this is something that LG have made deliberately not close when you choose to clear all. The idea is that then is you get a text message, which is possible at any time, it’s already up and running ready to deal with it – it’s a very small app that won’t use much memory so in this case it could actually use more battery for it to have to open that app again than to keep it open in the background.
      In fact I suspect some makers actually make it hidden so it doesn’t show up in the list at all – then you wouldn’t be able to see it to realise it wasn’t closed when you tapped clear all.
      In short, it’s not one I’d worry about!
      Hope that helps

  9. Diane Ruggles

    Having been retired for several years I’d forgotten what the f keys were for so your message was very helpful. Thank you.

  10. roy thompson

    Thank you for my first newsletter, it was very interesting. If I may I would like to ask you how to make a template for my address on my letters and e-mails .
    Whenever I have to send an e-mail which in turn has to include my address, an old address comes up which I haven’t used for years. I have tried all ways to delete the old one but it doesn’t happen. I have changed my address now and wish to include my new address

    1. Tim Wakeling Post author

      Thanks for the kind words!
      It does depend what program you’re using for your emails – you probably won’t be surprised to learn they all work slightly differently! They call the bit at the bottom the “signature”, event hough it’s not just an actual signature and often has an address or other details in. SO you need to either set up a new signature to replace the old one or simply edit the existing one to change the address in it.
      If you’re using the website BT have for their emails to access your emails, they have a page on it here that might help:

  11. Roger Gould

    Many Thanks Tim for my first news letter. It is very informative look forward to receiving future info.

  12. John House

    Thanks for your book and very useful E mails long may they continue . By the way this is my first sent message

    1. Tim Wakeling Post author

      Thanks for the kind comments – and congratulations on your first message – you’ve obviously done it perfectly since it’s showing here!

  13. Jennifer

    Dear Tim,
    Thank you for this email. Your help is very welcome. I have an Apple MacBook Pro, which is probably too sophisticated for me! I can handle emails, except select a section of one that I want to print. I’m also finding photos loading from the camera, storing in files and folders, labelling and retrieving from the cloud beyond me! This is something I would like help with if you have any books on that. I also need time to spend on it and confidence to try, so I’m pretty impossible!
    Yours sincerely,

    1. Tim Wakeling Post author

      I’m glad you found the email helpful! It certainly something I find helpful when I use it!
      I’m afraid we don’t have any books that cover Apple Macs at the moment. The nearest would be our PC books but I’m not sure they’d really be much help so I don’t really want to recommend them if they might only confuse matters.
      If we do ever make books on Macs, I’ll definitely mention it in my weekly emails, so you’ll hear about it there.
      My general advice is to pick one thing you want to do on it and try to get to grips with that (with any advice from friends, help you can find by searching the web and so on), then when you’ve got the hang of it, jot down on a pad of paper how to do it… then go on to the next thing you want to do and once you’ve managed it, jot down how you did it and so on… it might help avoid the frustration of knowing you managed it once but not being able to remember how!

  14. Gillian Roberts

    I dont appear to have any F keys on my laptop – but did use them when i had a “big” computer. Are mine hidden? Thanks for the first of my newsletters from you.

    1. Jess Carr

      Hello Gillian,
      Sometimes the function keys on a laptop double up as other keys, for example, they might have some sound control or some brightness control symbols on them.
      You should have a key on the bottom row of your keyboard that says “Fn”, if you hold this down and then press one of the buttons along the top of your keyboard, this should use the function for that particular key.
      I hope this helps,
      Many thanks

  15. Megan Tansley

    27th June 2020 Many thanks Julie and Tim for this article it. I find it a very useful piece for it will help me to understand something of the depth of this subject.

  16. Diana

    Thank you. Tim, vey helpful. I`ve been using PCs/laptops for more years than I care to remember and have just picked things up as I went along.
    I`m afraid that I always avoided all the F keys except F-1 and F-5 (thought the others were just for techies).
    It`s trye, even I can learn something new every day.
    Thank you for the very clear explanations.

  17. June Marshall

    Thank you for sending me a copy of your helpful Tech Tips.. I don’t think I have ever used the F keys, but I will certainly try them now.

  18. Ralph Smith

    Thank you for this info about F keys. I’ve only just signed up for help from you and I look forward to experimenting with their use. Asa nearly 90 year old I do find all this modern way of life difficult, but I want to master it. With your continuing help I should get further along that path!


  19. Tony Wright

    Hi Tim
    I have a sheet on my wall about the functions of the F keys. It’s quite old so may not be up-to-date. You say in your article that the F9 key has no common features. The sheet on my wall states that it refreshes a document in Microsoft Word and sends and receives emails in Microsoft Outlook.

  20. Trevor John Howard

    I am so glad i have found you as a new sign up, already useful.


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