Navigating Text

By Deane Barker on November 29, 2006

I’m wondering if there’s any training to help users navigate text. The more I watch people work on a computer, the more I see that navigating text from the keyboard is a big time waster.

I read a big book ten years ago on Microsoft Word that taught me the basics of navigating the cursor through a body of text. Things like:

  • “CTRL-arrow” will jump you word-by-word through a line
  • “End” will take you to the end of a line
  • “CTRL-End” will take you to the end of the document
  • “Home” will take you to the beginning of a line
  • “CTRL-Home” will take you to the beginning of the document
  • “Shift-arrow” will highlight text
  • “CTRL-A” highlights all the test
  • If you have text highlighted, just start typing to replace it

After you master these, you start chaining them together.

  • “End” and one press of the right arrow gets you to the beginning of the next line.
  • “Shift-End” highlights the line after the cursor.
  • “Shift-Home” highlights the line before the cursor.
  • “Shift-up/down arrow” highlights blocks of text really fast. (Using the mouse for this always scrolls too fast and overruns what the user wants.)

The result is that, whether I’m in a text editor or Word, I can fly through a document. In contrast, I watched my wife work in the browser the other day. I told her to go to a certain URL, and she:

  1. Took the mouse and clicked in the address bar, which highlighted all the text. (Just start typing…)
  2. Pressed and held the right arrow so the cursor re-activated and went — character by character — to the end of the URL. (Shift-Home then type!!)
  3. Pressed and held backspace so the cursor — character by character — deleted the URL. (In the name of all that is good and holy, CTRL-A then type!!!)
  4. Then she started typing.

I was almost in tears by the time she was done. This happens all the time — you see users laboring to find their way around blocks of text. I want to help them, but by jumping in, I’d just confuse them in the end.

I think there’s a nice spot for an hour-long class on navigating text from the keyboard, and some common keyboard shortcuts. Not only would it improve productivity, but it would improve the user’s experience and feeling of control immensely.

Gadgetopia

Comments

  1. Sounds like you should put together a little video tutorial.

    My favorite shortcut when browsing to a new site is: F6 – To get me to the address bar Then type just the domain name (i.e. google) of the site I want to go to and then press:

    • Ctrl + Enter to automatically add the “http://www.” and “.com” or
    • Shift + Enter to automatically add the “http://www.” and “.net” (Firefox only) or
    • Ctrl + Shift + Enter to automatically add the “http://www.” and “.org” (Firefox only)

    At the very least, people need to learn that they usually don’t need the “http://www.”

  2. Hello Deane,

    Not only would it improve productivity, but it would improve the user?s experience and feeling of control immensely.

    It’s a lovely idea… pity it’s not likely to do much good.

    Bruce Tognazzini (sp?), the interface guru who did so much to get the Macintosh on the right track, spent YEARS video’ing users and how they get around machines. One of his quotes, that NO ONE who is a computer expert believes, is “People say that keyboard-shortcuts are faster, but the stopwatch says that using the mouse is faster.”

    Note, he isn’t saying, “In my opinion…” he’s showing actual, documented, timed results. Real results. But note my caveat before the quote: No one who is an expert computer user believes him.

    I think it’s like the post recently where someone was saying that blogs are great because they get rid of handling the URL… “ordinary people” don’t get the whole folder/subdirectory thing, so when it all goes away, WOW, eighteen gazillion ordinary people start using it.

    Yes, you’re an expert, and YES, for you it’s more productive to do the keyboard magic. NO, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it would be anything more than an annoyance to your wife to try to teach it to her, nor if you taught her, would she work any “faster”.

    The other reason I think it unlikely to help is that I had a similar experience with a cow-orker, who has a Ph. D. in Computer Science. However, when he’d sit down to the shared internet machine (long story) he’d very carefully use the mouse to select the previous user’s name, hit delete, and then type in his name. Then he’d very carefully click the mouse in the password field, and type in his password.

    No amount of discussion of TAB and Shift-TAB keys could dissuade him. That’s how he worked.

  3. My reliance on moving through text via the keyboard is one of the main reasons I find OpenOffice impossible to use. You can’t use shift-control-arrow-up or -down to select an entire paragraph, and control-up or -down — rather than jumping in paragraph-sized chunks — instead slides entire paragraphs up and down (which you can do in Word with shift-alt-up and -down). Makes me CRAZY. I’ve even asked a developer buddy if he could hack me something up to make it work the way I want it to. Unfortunately, I was out of Cuervo, so he declined.

  4. I was almost in tears by the time she was done. This happens all the time ? you see users laboring to find their way around blocks of text. I want to help them, but by jumping in, I?d just confuse them in the end.

    I know exactly what you mean. The thing that drives me nuts sometimes is people clicking on the scroll arrows in a web browser to move up & down a long page; hit the flippin space bar fer cryin out loud!

    There may have been a day some time in the past when using the mouse was faster, but I doubt that holds true today. Considering the trends toward larger monitors, multiple monitors, higher resolutions and larger hard drives packed with ever increasing numbers of apps and files, getting around solely with the mouse just doesn’t cut it. And when you’re talking about navigating around within a Word or any other kind of document, using the keyboard shortcuts is much, much faster than using the mouse, especially if the hands are already on the keyboard for typing.

  5. Yeah , I totally understand what you say. It actually physically hurts me to see how some ppl use their comps. When they say me working on my keybrd , they ask me “isn’t workng on keybrd a pain ? ” and I can’t reply!

    to really get ppl started on using keybrd , everyone should be forced to use vi for some parts of their lives ;P

  6. ?People say that keyboard-shortcuts are faster, but the stopwatch says that using the mouse is faster.?

    Tog can say whatever he likes. All my wife needed to know was that when she clicked in the address field and all the text highlighted, all she had to do was start typing.

  7. I had a realy nice comment made out…… i clicked on the Markdown link below…. and now this is all i have the energy to retype….sorry.

  8. you think watching other people misuse the keyboard is bad?

    i recently switched fields to work in a fairly computer illiterate environment. it’s not a tech job, so i occasionally receive trainings from the people who are “tech people”.

    the instructions we get are exactly what your wife did. when i use the shortcuts, i’m told not to because i might screw something up!

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