How to Use the F Keys on a Computer Keyboard

By Gina Poirier

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Function keys, also known as "F" keys, are at the top of every PC keyboard. As they are not necessary for the basic functions of your computer and programs, they can be useless if you do not know how to use them. If you take the time to learn what they can do, however, you can save a lot of time. Different brands of computers and software programs may have different uses for the "F" keys, but there are some common ways you can use them in Windows, Microsoft Office programs and browsers like Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.

Use the "F1" key as a help key in most software programs. You will bring up a "help" or "support" window when you press it. On some computers you can also use it to enter BIOS or CMOS setup during startup. In Microsoft Office, you can press it to open the Task Pane. Finally, no matter what program you have open, if you press "F1" and the "Windows" key simultaneously you will always open Windows Support.

Use the "F2" key for several different shortcuts. You can use it to quickly rename a highlighted file. If you press "Alt," "Ctrl" and "F2" while in Microsoft Office programs, you can open a new document. You can also press "Ctrl" and "F2" in Office programs to open the Print Preview window. Finally, on some computers you can press it during startup to enter CMOS or BIOS setup.

Use the "F3" key as a quick way to open the "Search" window to look for a file, either in Microsoft Windows or the program you have open if applicable. You can also use it in the command prompt line to repeat the last command. Finally, if you highlight some text and press "Shift" and "F3" in Microsoft Word, the text will change to either all caps or all lowercase.

Use the "F4" key to open the "Find" window or column in programs like Internet Explorer. You can also use it as a shortcut to repeat the last action performed in Microsoft Office programs. Pressing "Alt" and "F4" closes the program currently active, while "Ctrl" and "F4" closes the active window in the program currently active but does not close the program itself.

Use the "F5" key to refresh the current page on your Internet browser or the contents of a dialog box. In Microsoft Word it also opens the "Find and Replace" window, and in PowerPoint it starts a slideshow. "F5" plus "Ctrl" and "Shift" also inserts a bookmark in Word.

Use the "F6" key to move your cursor to the Address Bar in browsers like Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. You can also press "Ctrl," "Shift" and "F6" to open a new document in Microsoft Office programs. "Ctrl" and "F6" or "Alt" and "F6" are both shortcuts to move to a previous window if you have multiple Office program documents open.

Use the "F7" key to do a spell check/grammar check in a number of different applications, including Microsoft Office programs. You can also use it to open the thesaurus for a highlighted word if you press "Shift" and "F7." In Mozilla Firefox, you can use it to turn on Caret browsing.

Press the "F8" key during Windows startup to use advanced startup options. The most common alternative startup method is to use "Safe Mode."

Use the "F9" key to open the Measurements toolbar if you use Quark.

Use the "F10" key to activate the Menu bar in a number of programs. For example, if you press "F10" in Microsoft Office programs, you will see options to press keys to change Menu tabs. If you press "Shift" and "F10," you will bring up the same options you would using a right-click. On some computers you can also enter CMOS or BIOS setup by pressing "F10" during startup.

Use the "F11" key to activate the Full Screen mode in your browser. It is also useful in Microsoft Excel. Use it to make a graph of highlighted cells, or press "F11" and "Shift" to quickly add more worksheets.

Use the "F12" key to open the "Save as" window in Microsoft Office programs. If you press "Shift" and "F12," you will save the document without necessarily pulling up the window. Finally, "Ctrl," "Shift" and "F12" is a shortcut to print a document.

Discover other "F" key functions that are specific to the brand of your computer. On some keyboards you will find small icons directly on the keys that indicate that they can be used for machine settings such as volume and screen brightness. Usually you must press the "Fn" key to use in combination with the "F" keys to activate these options. You can also find other shortcuts in your computer's user manual or on the manufacturer's website.

Discover other "F" key functions in different software programs like games, word processors and browsers. Refer to your software's user manual or the manufacturer's website, or take an instructional class if one is available.