Know your keyboard

This document describes keys you may find on your keyboard and some of the functions available when keys are used in combination with each other. Which ones you have depends on the type of keyboard supplied with your PC. Below is a fairly typical example in use throughout the University of Bristol.

Example keyboard layout

Your keyboard comprises various sections of keys which can be described as follows:

  1. 'Qwerty' keys (the alphabet plus various symbols and numbers for example $ # 4 ")
  2. The function keys (F1 F2 etc)
  3. The numeric keypad (1 2 3 etc) on the right of the keyboard
  4. Cursor control keys (the arrows) on the right of the keyboard
  5. A number of specially defined keys (Enter, Shift, Windows key etc)

Qwerty keys

So called because of the layout of the first six letters on the keyboard.

Some keys have more than one character on them, usually one above the other. These generally consist of punctuation (including accents and quotes) and mathematical symbols. These characters are obtained by pressing and holding down the Shift key before pressing the required key.

Despite all letter keys having a capital letter on them, pressing them on their own produces a lower case letter.  Capital letters are produced by pressing and holding down the Shift key and then pressing the corresponding letter on the keyboard. For continual upper case characters you can use the Caps Lock key. Press this key once to type in upper case continuously, press it again to release it.

Space bar

The long bar across the bottom of the keyboard is the space bar. Press once to insert a space one character-width to the right.

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The function keys

These keys usually run along the top of the keyboard, and are marked F1 to F12.  Many packages have defined these keys to be used as shortcuts for commonly-needed actions but you rarely need to use them.

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The numeric keypad

Situated on the right of the keyboard, these keys have numbers and control functions on them. This facility is often used by data entry operators who need to input vast amounts of numerical data by touch. To use the numeric option, press down the NumLock key above the 7 key.  There is usually a light above the numeric keypad that lights when the NumLock key has been pressed. When you have finished typing the numbers you want you can press the NumLock key again to release it (and turn the light off).  You would do this if you want to use the other options on these keys (see Cursor control keys).

Cursor control keys

If the NumLock key is not pressed, it means that the other items marked on these keys are operational. These items include direction arrows ( left arrow up arrow right arrow down arrow ) and Home, PgUp, End, PgDn. The arrows are known as cursor control keys (the cursor is the flashing bar on the computer screen that shows your current position). Many keyboards also have a separate pad for these keys (look for a set of arrow keys).

When using word processors, the 'up arrow' moves your cursor up one line of typed characters at a time, the 'down' arrow moves it down one line of typed characters at a time. The left and right arrows move the cursor one character to the left or right. To move more than one character, press the key continually.

The Home key moves the cursor to the beginning of the current line of typed characters, the End key moves it to the end. PgUp is an abbreviation for Page Up, and moves your cursor up one page, and PgDn moves it down one page.

Note that the 0 key also has an Ins function - for information about what this does, see the Insert/Ins key listed in the Keys with special functions. The decimal point key beneath the number 3 key also has a Del function, allowing deletion of items at the current cursor position.

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Keys with special functions

The following list is not necessarily complete. Keyboards vary between manufacturers, as do the layout of special keys.

Some of these keys are used in conjunction with other keys to perform specific tasks within software packages.

Enter

This key is used to send the cursor to the beginning of the next line (for instance when typing text in a word processing package). It is also used to finish a command and tell the computer to execute the command just typed. There are usually two of these keys.

Backspace

Used to delete one character at a time to the left of the cursor. You can also click and drag to highlight text and then press the Backspace key to delete text.

Tab

Used to set tab positions in a document. Setting tab positions allows you to move the cursor to defined positions, for instance when typing figures in columns. By holding down the Shift key then pressing Tab, you can move to the previous tab position.

Shift

Hold down this key and press a letter, to get an upper case letter, or press any other key, eg a number, to get the symbol above it.  Some keyboard shortcuts also use the Shift key.

Caps Lock

CapsLock mode is activated by pressing the key once and is indicated by a light on the panel above the numeric keypad.  When on, all letters are typed in upper case (numbers are not affected).  Press the key again to return to normal mode.

Esc

Primarily used to cancel a command (instead of pressing Enter) or to escape from a process which may be in an odd state.

Alt (Alternate)

Used in conjunction with other keys to carry out functions specific to your computer system. Also used to enter ASCII codes, including non-English characters, by holding down the Alt key and entering the number from the numeric keypad.

Alt Gr (Alternate)

Used to produce the third character located on the key above the Tab key.  Hold this down and press the key above Tab.

Ctrl (Control)

Cannot be used on its own. Used in conjunction with other keys to carry out a specific function. There are usually two of these keys.

Windows key Key with a a Windows logo (there are usually two of these keys).  Pressing this key on its own will display the Start menu.  Also used in conjunction with a number of other keys, to perform specific actions, eg pressing  E whilst holding down the Windows key is a shortcut way of launching Windows Explorer.
Application key Key with a picture of a mouse pointing to a menu.  Pressing this key is the equivalent of pressing the right mouse button.  It will bring up a menu specific to the place where you are.
Num Lock

Allows the numeric keys to be used on the numeric keypad, rather than the cursor control keys. Num Lock mode is activated by pressing the key once and is indicated by a light on the panel above the numeric keypad. Press the key again to return to normal mode. Also see the numeric keypad.

Scroll Lock

Can control the way the cursor control keys operate in some programs. Many applications ignore this setting. Scroll Lock mode is activated by pressing the key once and is indicated by a light on the panel above the numeric keypad. Press the key again to return to normal mode.

Pause/Break Used often in conjunction with other keys.  In some computer games, this pauses the game.
Delete/Del

Deletes the character to the right of the cursor position. The remaining text moves one cursor position to the left, for each character deleted. You can also click and drag to highlight text and then press the Delete key to delete text.

Insert/Ins

Inserts characters in a line of text. The remaining text moves one cursor position to the right for each character inserted.  If you accidentally press this, you'll find that what you type overwrites the text to the left of it.  If you find this happening, press the key again to return to insert mode.

SysRq (System Request)

Used by the operating system and applications - actions variable depending on program used.

Print Screen (Prt Sc)

Sends a copy of everything on your current screen to the Windows Clipboard.  From here you can paste it into an application, eg a Word document.

Home

Moves your cursor to the beginning of the current line of typed characters.

PgUp (Page Up)

Moves your cursor up one page of information.

PgDn (Page Down)

Moves your cursor down one page of information.

End

Moves your cursor to the end of the current line of typed characters.

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