Word Processing

This article presents some of the finer points in using the keyboard and the mouse to scroll documents and position the insertion point.

Scrolling and Positioning the Insertion Point

In word processing, scrolling is the action of moving a document vertically or horizontally beneath the viewing area of the document window in order to see the text in different locations of the document.

Positioning is the action of moving the insertion point (also known as the cursor) to a location in a text in order to make an edit.

So, to make an edit to a portion of text which is off-screen requires the user to scroll to the location and then position the insertion point where the edit is to be made.

Scrolling and positioning can be accomplished using either the keyboard or the mouse (or touchpad).

While many users use the mouse almost exclusively for scrolling and positioning, the keyboard is actually considered more efficient because the hands stay on the keyboard.

Another keyboard advantage is that scrolling and positioning are simultaneous, i.e. wherever you navigate using the keyboard, the insertion point follows automatically. Scrolling with the mouse requires a second, separate clicking action to relocate the insertion point after scrolling to a new location.

Furthermore, scrolling and positioning using the keyboard is faster than using the mouse. For example, jumping to the beginning or end of a document with the keyboard (Ctrl-Home/Ctrl-End, respectively) is a fait accomplis before a reaching hand has even touched the mouse.

Keyboard Commands

The keyboard cursor movement commands in the following table work in virtually every nook and cranny of every software program ever written.

These commands should be in every user's repertoire because they are fast, efficient, and, used properly, they can cut down on the risk of repetitive strain injury

Left ArrowCursor left, one character
Right ArrowCursor right, one character
Ctrl-Left ArrowCursor left, one word
Ctrl-Right ArrowCursor right, one word
EndCursor to end of line
HomeCursor to beginning of line
PageUpCursor up one screenful
PageDownCursor down one screenful
Ctrl-EndCursor to end of document
Ctrl-HomeCursor to beginning of document
Ctrl-UpArrow Cursor up one paragraph
Ctrl-DownArrow Cursor down one paragraph

Mouse Techniques

There are three distinct techniques for scrolling using the mouse and scroll bars.

  • Drag the scroll box
  • Click in the scroll bar
  • Click on the scroll arrows

Many users waste time and effort using the techniques inappropriately.

Technique 1: Drag the scroll box

Dragging the scroll box works best for scrolling long distances in a document. This is why MS-Word displays page numbers as you scroll this way. Dragging the scroll bar is too coarse an adjustment for medium and short distance scrolling.
  • Dragging the scroll box downward moves text upward in proportion to the distance and speed with which you drag the scroll box.
  • Dragging the scroll box upward moves text downward in proportion to the distance and speed with which you drag the scroll box.

Technique 2: Click in the scroll bar

Clicking empty space in the scroll bar works well for mid-range moves - scrolling one screenful at a time.

This technique is the most natural way to scroll while reading through a document or Web page. It is analogous to turning pages in a book.

Scrolling this way actually moves one line less than a screenful. This helps you find your new place and confirms that you haven't missed anything.

  • Left-click the scroll bar below the scroll box to move text up an entire screen at a time
  • Left-click the scroll bar above the scroll box to move text down an entire screen at a time

Technique 3: Click the scroll arrows

Clicking the scroll arrows is "low gear" scrolling and is designed for making fine adjustments in position. For example, use it to bring fully into view a graphic or table which is partially off-screen.

Clicking the scroll arrows is not an efficient technique for scrolling long distances.

Clicking the scroll arrows is especially poorly suited for advancing text as it is being read. Its frequent and jerky scrolling movement is a sure recipe for eye strain as eye muscles adjust constantly.

  • Click the bottom scroll arrow to move text up one line at a time
  • Click the top scroll arrow to move text down one line at a time

Bruce Miller, 2000, 2005, 2014

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