Tips & Tricks for Filling Out Forms

Ever had to fill out a form like this one? A lot of people waste large amounts of time working with forms because they don’t know a few simple shortcuts (namely, the Tab key!) Here’s how to get it done more quickly and less painfully.

0: Screencast
I’m trying something new this week—a screencast. If you don’t know, a screencast is a video of someone’s screen as they perform some task (in this case, purchasing a cash register online), usually with a voiceover explaining what’s going on. I’d suggest you read the article first, but I think checking out the video afterwards will probably help you see what I’m talking about, and perhaps put the information into a form that will be a little bit easier to apply. And above all, if you take only one thing from this article, let it be this: Use the TAB key. It will save you hours over the course of your lifetime.

1: Terminology
Before I can cover how to move through a form quickly, you probably want to know some terminology–if you already know it, feel free to skip over this section. So here are the elements that often appear in forms (all these are in the screenshot, so you can reference it if you need to):

  • Text Box: You probably already know what this is–a (usually white) box that you can type text into. Usually you can type whatever you want into here, though some text boxes may have validation–for instance, an email address has to contain an @ and a ., and the CAPTCHA code where you have to type in the funny letters to prove that you’re human has only one correct answer.
  • Drop-Down Menu (or simply drop-down): A (usually gray) box with a little arrow on one end. When you click on it, a list pops open and you can scroll through it and select one of the choices. These are usually used when there are a lot of options, but sometimes form designers might put short lists in a drop-down.
  • Check Box: A small square box; when you click on it, a check appears or goes away. This is (usually) for on/off and yes/no questions only.
  • Radio Buttons (or option buttons): Little round buttons, typically used for short lists of options. When you click one of the radio buttons, any previously selected one gets unmarked.
  • Field: Any one location asking you to enter data (i.e., “first name”, “state”, “telephone number”, and so on).

In addition, forms can contain text, lines, and pictures, but you can’t enter any information with these.

2: Moving Around a Form
Your TAB key is your best friend when filling out a form. It will advance automatically to whatever the creator of the form has defined as the next field (hopefully this is an order that makes sense to you!). If you accidentally skip a field or need to go back and change something, you can press Shift-TAB. When you use the key to move into a text box that already has something in it, it will usually highlight any previous text so that you can just start typing over it (be careful that you don’t accidentally delete anything).

When you’re moving through a form that has a text box, then a series of check boxes, then another text box, you can save a fair bit of time (and a lot of effort) by avoiding the mouse, because you don’t have to keep switching from mouse to keyboard. If you use the TAB key and the following tips, you should have no reason to touch your mouse. (If you’re filling out a form that consists entirely of check boxes, drop-downs, and radio buttons, such as a survey, then these tips are probably a waste of time for that particular form.)

The next sections tell you how to deal with each individual element; they assume that you pressed Tab to move to and select that element.

Text Boxes
There’s not much to say about these–the biggest factor here is your typing speed. Unfortunately there are no magical efficiency-improving text box tricks.

Drop-Down Menus
There are several tricks with drop-down menus. Don’t even think about reaching for your mouse to use a drop-down menu. All you really have to do is start typing, and the menu will scroll to that choice. For instance, if you’re asked to fill in your state, you don’t have to scroll through the entire menu hunting for your state–instead, just type the first couple of letters and it should be selected for you.

If you aren’t sure what options are in the drop-down menu (and therefore can’t type the first letters of it), just press the spacebar. This will open the drop-down menu so that you can see the options. You can then start typing the option you want.

If all the choices don’t fit on the screen, you can use the arrow keys and Page Up/Page Down keys to see the rest of the list. If you select the choice you want with the arrow keys (instead of typing to move to it), just press Tab twice to close the drop-down and move to the next field. (Enter and then Tab also works, but double-tabbing is faster.)

Check Boxes
Check boxes are very simple to manipulate–to turn them on or off, just press the spacebar. If there’s more than one, just press tab and repeat.

Radio Buttons
Radio buttons are funny because they have a different state after you’ve selected something once–before you choose a button, nothing is selected, but after you make a selection it is impossible to return to having nothing selected.

Unlike other sets of elements (like multiple check boxes) radio buttons are selected as a set when tabbing, so pressing Tab while the first radio button is selected will tab to the field after all the radio buttons, rather than to the next radio button.

To select the first radio button, you can press the spacebar. To select any others, simply use the arrow keys, and buttons will begin being selected as you press the keys.

Submitting
When you finish entering your data, you can press Enter to send it. At this point, Murphy’s Law states that the site will usually return an error and require you to retype some or all of the information (often because you missed the little tiny button that states you agree to the terms and conditions that have been read by approximately five people, or because you mistyped the eye-straining verification code). If it’s only one field, clicking on it and fixing it is probably best, but otherwise you can reuse the tips above.

If you haven’t seen the screencast yet, I suggest you watch it now.


Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad
http://www.thetechnicalgeekery.com

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

How To Plug In A USB Cable The Right Way The First Time

Ever gone to plug in a USB cable, couldn’t get it in, and flipped it over and tried again, only to discover that you had it the right way the first time? What’s that? You do it every day? Fortunately, this is a surprisingly easy annoyance to fix.

1: Getting The Cable The Right Way
Ever noticed that nearly all USB cables have a little USB logo on one side of the plug (picture)? That logo is on the same side of every USB connector–unplug one of your USB cables and see for yourself. Flash drives, unfortunately, don’t have the logo; however, this can be rectified by memorizing which way is which, or you can put a little sticky dot, Sharpie mark, or correction fluid on that side.

2: Which Way Do I Plug It Into the Port?
There aren’t any guidelines that are right 100% of the time, but most equipment does conform to a couple of standards. On laptops, the logo will face up, and on desktops it will face the far side of the case (the side that is furthest away from the ports). On the sides of monitors, the USB logo will face you. As for everything else, like hubs, the best thing to do is to try it and see.

Rather than remember all these rules, I take a labelmaker, print out a neat label that says something like “LOGO LEFT”, and stick it on my hub/case/other device. That way you don’t have to think about it. The result is something like this.


Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad
http://www.thetechnicalgeekery.com

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.

Some parts of this article were taken from http://lifehacker.com/5847279/how-to-plug-in-a-usb-cable-correctly-every-time.

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

Six Handy Browser Shortcuts

Want to know a quick way to scroll down the page without the mouse? Or reopen a tab you closed by mistake? Here are six ways to move around your browser more efficiently.

  1. Press the spacebar to scroll down one screen. This allows you to read a page without having to keep scrolling the mouse or pressing the arrow key. About two lines from the previous page will be left on the new page so that you don’t lose your place.
  2. Open a new tab by pressing Control-T. It’s sure a lot easier than trying to hit the little plus button next to the tabs.
  3. Open a new window by pressing Control-N. You probably don’t need a new window very often, but it’s an easy shortcut to remember for when you do.
  4. In Chrome, open a new incognito window by pressing Control-Shift-N. (In Firefox, enter private browsing mode by pressing Control-Shift-P.) This doesn’t save history, cookies, or anything else, so you don’t leave any traces of where you’ve been when in private browsing mode. (Well, the web server can still collect information about your visit. But your computer stays free of any information.)
  5. Press Control-L to move your cursor to the address bar. This can save you reaching for the mouse when you’re ready to visit a new site. It’s especially handy in Chrome, where you can easily start a search from the address bar.
  6. Press Control-Shift-T to reopen a tab you just closed. This is really nice when you accidentally close a tab, or if after a few minutes you realize you weren’t really done with that reference page. It sure beats having to open your browsing history and find it again.


Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad
http://www.thetechnicalgeekery.com

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

What The Heck Does That Key Do?

You know what keys I’m talking about. The ones that say things like Scroll Lock, Break, and SysRq. When was the last time you pressed one of those keys? Here’s how they got to be there, what they originally did, and if there’s still anything you can use them for now.

Print Screen
The Print Screen key barely fits in this category–quite a few people know what the Print Screen key does, and it’s the only one of these keys that I use regularly. Originally, as its name suggests, the Print Screen key dumped the contents of the screen to the printer. So why doesn’t it perform this handy function today? Well, quite simply, graphical user environments. This key was envisioned when text-based operating systems like MS-DOS were the norm, and printing text was quite sensible. But when Windows came along, the Print Screen key had to be deactivated in Windows–dot-matrix printers and graphics don’t mix, and even if your printer printed graphics, that would have been a lot of ink. (Dot-matrix printers are the really noisy kind that operate by punching pins in the shape of letters. If you go to a few stores with old cash register equipment today, you might still encounter a dot-matrix receipt printer.)

But not being able to get a record of the current contents of the screen wasn’t a good solution either, so the function was modified to copy an image of the screen to the computer’s clipboard instead. This remains its function today. If you’ve been reading along with this newsletter every week, you’ve probably encountered a few of my screenshots–an common way to create a screenshot is to press the Print Screen key, paste the image into an image editing program, and save it.

(Note: Macs don’t have a print screen key, but you can take a screenshot by pressing Command-Shift-3.)

Scroll Lock
If you know anything about the scroll lock key, it’s probably that it makes one of those little lights in the upper-right-hand corner of the keyboard come on. But chances are good that you have never known what it’s for. If you’re exceedingly (un)lucky, you might have experienced your cursor in Excel refusing to move when you press the arrow keys. And that, it turns out, is the solution to the mystery of Scroll Lock.

The scroll lock key was envisioned back when most computers didn’t have mice. By pressing the scroll lock key and then the arrow keys, you could scroll around your document without moving the cursor within the document. Nowadays, with the advent of mice and scroll bars, this key is almost entirely useless (except for making the little light light up). A few programs still preserve the old behavior (like Excel), but by and large almost no programs use the key, and you have no real reason to utilize it.

Insert
Those unlucky souls who have noticed their computer suddenly start typing over text rather than inserting it probably know something about the Insert key–namely that it’s annoyingly easy to press by mistake. The purpose of the key is to toggle insert and overtype mode–that is, when you type more, whether the computer should insert it before text that comes after, or whether the text after it should be replaced as you type. (If you’re confused, try it: fire up Word, type a few words, press Insert, and try inserting text between the words.)

You probably can’t think of any uses for overtyping text, and by and large there aren’t any, but I can think of a few. For instance, if you have some text in Word that will wrap to the next line and totally mix up the formatting, or you’re filling out a form where adding extra spaces could mess things up very quickly, turning on Insert will let you change or fill in the space without adding extra characters.

Pause/Break
Fortunately, pressing this key does not break your computer. In fact, chances are very, very good that pressing the key will do nothing at all. Believe it or not, the origin of the key dates back to the days of the telegraph. Telegraph keys had a switch that would short the contacts of the key, generating a continuous signal. This switch would be set anytime the telegraph was not in use–this way, when the operator was ready to send again, he could turn off the switch and thereby alert the receiving party that he was about to send. (Additionally, if the signal was broken and no message arrived, they would know there was a problem with the line.)

When teletypewriters came into common use (they were used for a time to control early mainframes), the Break key was created to emulate this functionality. Pressing the key would cause the system at the other end to terminate a program, prepare for a login, or something similar. (When controlling a teleprinter at the other end instead of a computer, the printer would generate a continuous series of punches or DELETE characters, which was sometimes used to make a loud noise and alert the operator.)

So is there anything you can do with the Break key? Well, maybe. If you ever run MS-DOS programs, pressing Ctrl-Break may terminate a program. When your computer is beginning to boot and doing the POST (Power-On Self Check, where you see the computer’s hardware or manufacturer’s logo displayed onscreen), you may be able to freeze the output with Pause. But the only thing that most users are likely to be able to do with the Break key is to open the System Properties screen on a Windows computer, which you can do by holding the Windows key and pressing Break.)

SysRq
I’m tempted to pronounce this “sys wreck” and say that it makes your system explode. But it actually stands for “system request,” and goes down in history as something that was completely superseded and outdated about twenty years ago, yet still remains a standard feature of PC keyboards. It’s usually combined with the Print Screen key and accessed by holding down Alt before pressing the key. The key was originally introduced by IBM as a way to switch between operating systems. Since then it has had…well, basically no use at all. A tiny number of systems use it as a sort of “panic” signal, to trigger a hard reboot or terminate a program.

The key does have one useful function on Linux computers. There’s a function called the “magic SysRq key” that can be used to terminate the entire desktop environment (essentially logging you out immediately) or perform various other debugging functions. The key has absolutely no use whatsoever to Windows users.


Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad
http://www.thetechnicalgeekery.com

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

Primary sources for this article were my memory (information thus collected over many years from various unknown sources) and the Wikipedia articles on each, which are all quite extensive and helpful.

Zooming In and Out In a Zoom

Ever tried to make a picture, Word document, or web page display bigger or smaller? You probably found it was an exercise in frustration because you kept having to find the zoom options when you didn’t get the amount quite right–but that’s because you didn’t know about this tip. Here are two ways to quickly zoom in and out that work in nearly every program that supports zooming.

Method 1: Using The Mouse
Hold down the Ctrl key, then turn your mouse wheel away from you to zoom in or towards you to zoom out.

Method 2: Using The Keyboard

  • To zoom in, press Ctrl-+.
  • To zoom out, press Ctrl- – (Ctrl plus a hyphen).
  • To return to 100% zoom, press Ctrl-0.


Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad
http://www.thetechnicalgeekery.com

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

Slashes and Backslashes, Oh My

Slashes and backslashes can be difficult to tell apart–they look pretty similar, and to make matters worse they’re both used in describing the location of a file. Hopefully you’ll have an idea of the difference when you’re done with this article.

Part 1: Telling Slashes and Backslashes apart

  • This is a forward slash (often known simply as slash): /
  • This is a backslash:

If you have difficulty remembering which is which, try this:

  1. Imagine the two characters forming a hill, like so: /.
  2. On the left side (forward slash), you go up the hill. On the right side (backslash) you go “back” down the hill.
Here are some differences:
  • The forward slash is located on the same key as the question mark.
  • The backslash is located between the Enter and backspace keys and is on a slightly longer key than normal. (On specialized keyboards, the backslash can get moved to all sorts of places.)
  • A forward slash is used for writing English text.
  • A backslash is usually used only in computer contexts.

Part 2: When to Use (Back)slashes

1. In filename paths:
Here are some ways of specifying the location of a file, several of which you probably recognize:

i. http://www.google.com
ii. C:Windowssystem32progman.exe
iii. /home/soren/code/scripts/m.sh
iv. \SERVERMusic
v. smb://SERVER/Music

(i) is a URL for a page on the World Wide Web. Web addresses always use forward slashes. You can probably get away with typing backslashes and have the page still load, but doing so is poor form and may occasionally not work. Please don’t say “backslash” when reading a web address–it annoys some people to no end.

(ii) is a Windows file path. These paths always use backslashes. You can supposedly use forward slashes if you want, but many programs will not accept paths typed with forward slashes.

(iii) is a UNIX or Mac OS X style path. These always use forward slashes. These systems will usually not accept backslashes, because the backslash is used for something else (more on that in a minute).

(iv) is a UNC path, used to specify the location of a device or file on a network in Windows. This uses backslashes, though forward slashes will often work.

(v) is another way of specifying a network resource, usually used on UNIX-like systems. This uses forward slashes.

In short, Windows uses backslashes, while UNIX and Mac OS X systems use forward slashes. Most importantly, Web addresses always use forward slashes.

2. Other Uses

Forward slashes can also be used:

  • as a symbol for division (as in 6 / 3)
  • to precede a command in a chat client or other program (as in /quit)
  • to show italics when only plain text is available (like /this/)
  • To indicate command-line options in Windows (dir/p)

Backslashes can also be used:

  • as an “escape” character, to modify the meaning of the following character. This is a common feature on Unix and Mac OS X command lines. For example, if a space would normally mean the end of a command or name, but the command or name contains a space, it would be written like this: word1 word2
  • to indicate integer division, where any fractional result is cut off (7 2 = 3)
  • to indicate that a line of text or program code does not end but should be carried over to the next line (this is the first part of the line
  • and this is the second part)

There are even more uses for these two simple characters in computing; if I didn’t bore you out of your mind, you can check out Wikipedia, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slash_(punctuation) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backslash.


SorenscorchgeekBjornstad
http://www.thetechnicalgeekery.com

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

Big, Important Keyboard Shortcuts

This article isn’t just about big, important shortcuts; it’s about Big, Important ones. Unfortunately, I can’t make that clear in the title. But anyway, if you don’t know these three shortcuts you’re probably wasting minutes of your life every day. If you already do, I have a couple more that might be new.

These shortcuts work almost everywhere–browsers, word processors, image editors, financial programs, you name it. If you’re not sure if a program supports them, try it and see–sometimes they’re not listed anywhere on the menu but they still work.
Part 1: Easy Stuff
Control-X: Deletes the currently selected text and places it on the clipboard (known more conventionally as “cutting”).
Control-C: Copies the currently selected text onto the clipboard.
Control-V: Pastes the contents of the clipboard at the current cursor point.

(Note: You can also cut, copy, and paste files in a file management program such as Windows Explorer, the Finder, or Nautilus in the same manner. In the case of files, a file you “cut” won’t be deleted until it’s been safely pasted at the destination; if you copy something else to the clipboard by mistake, the original files will be left unchanged.)

I can’t tell you how many minutes of my own life I’ve spent watching people slooowly selecting text, then moving their mouse all the way across the screen to select Edit –> Cut from a menu, when they could be done pasting the text already. If you don’t already use these shortcuts, learn them. Paste a sticky note on your monitor until you’ve got it down.

Control-Z: Undoes the last action.

Control-Z is a nice extension to X, C, and V. All four keys are right next to each other and can be easily operated with one hand while selecting things with the mouse with the other. (Unless you use a non-standard keyboard layout, like Dvorak. Then you’re out of luck on that particular front.)
Part 2: Slightly More Advanced Stuff
These aren’t really “advanced”, just lesser-known and less important. If I could only teach someone 10 keyboard shortcuts, these probably wouldn’t be among them–but they do still come in handy.

Control-A: Select all text in the current document or text box.

Sometimes you need to copy an entire document and paste it somewhere else (for example, into an email). Or you might have finished writing a long comment in a text box on a website and want to save it yourself. This shortcut saves you from spending a few seconds trying to highlight a long document or blob of text.

Control-Y: Redo an action.

If you undid your actions one too many times, the Redo command is your friend. It’s an undo for the Undo command. A few programs use the keystroke Ctrl-Shift-Z instead, but it works the same.

Confusingly, Redo also has another function in many programs (like Microsoft Word)–if you just moved or typed something and your last action wasn’t an undo, hitting Redo will repeat your last action.


Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad
http://www.thetechnicalgeekery.com

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

I Lost My Window!: Pulling a Mischievous Window Back On-Screen

Have you ever had the title bar of a window get stuck off the screen, so that you can’t move it anymore? In Windows 7 it’s even possible to get a window stuck under the taskbar, which is extremely aggravating–you can see it, but you can’t click on it to move it back out! If you don’t think you’ll remember how to deal with it, print out a copy of these instructions and you’ll know what to do next time it happens.

If you’re not sure exactly what I mean, here are two screenshots: nearly stuck and totally stuck. (For this example, I got the window stuck on purpose by dragging it entirely behind a panel, but it can happen accidentally while moving windows or even sometimes when you open a program. In either case, you see that the window is open but can’t be moved or even seen except on the taskbar.)

The brute-force solution is to close the program and restart it. Unfortunately, this sometimes doesn’t work, because programs often remember the location their windows were at when they were closed, so that they can reopen where you want them the next time. Even if this solution would work, you might prefer not to restart the program.

Fortunately, there’s an elegant and simple fix. This tip works on Windows and Linux; I haven’t tried it on a Mac, but it probably works. (By the way, if you are using an operating system, like Mac OS X, that I say I haven’t tested the tip on, and you try it and it works, please leave a comment.)

  1. Switch to the window with the stuck title bar. To do this, you can click on a part of the window you can see (if there is any), or you can select its taskbar button (so that it looks highlighted, something like what screenshot 2 looks like).
  2. Hold down the Alt key and press the spacebar. A menu should appear with options for managing the window. Choose Move. Here’s a screenshot.
  3. Slide the mouse away from the part of the screen the window is stuck in. The window should move as if you were dragging and dropping its title bar. When you get it to the location you want, click once. (Alternatively, you can use the arrow keys to move the window.)

That’s all. Time to get back to work!


Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad
http://www.thetechnicalgeekery.com

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

Finding Text on a Web Page Quickly

Chances aren’t bad you already know the basics of this trick, but if you don’t, it could save you a heck of a lot of time. If you already know the trick, I have a couple of wicked cool shortcuts you probably don’t know.

(Disclaimer: I only had access to the Chrome and Firefox browsers while writing this tip. I find that these are the best browsers available today; if you don’t have one of them, check them out! If you are stuck using a different browser, these tips will probably work anyway, but I can’t guarantee it.)

Part 1: Searching for Text on a Page
In every modern browser, you can quickly search for any text on the current page by pressing Ctrl-F (“find”) and typing a word or words in the search box. In most browsers you’ll be brought to the first result and all results will be highlighted as you type. Here are screenshots for Chrome and Firefox users.

Part 2: Cool Tricks
Now here’s the stuff you probably didn’t know:

1. Alternative Ways to Start Searching
If you don’t like the Ctrl-F shortcut, in most browsers you can use F3 instead. In Firefox, you can also use a slash (‘/’). This search works slightly differently from the normal search box (for instance, there is no “Find Next” button); see a screenshot.

If you use Firefox, there’s an even faster way to start searching if you set an option. Go to Edit –> Preferences (or Tools –> Options depending on the version of Firefox you use), select the Advanced tab at the top, and check the box “Search for text when I start typing” (screenshot). Now when you’re outside of any elements on a web page that accept text (text boxes, search boxes, drop-down menus, etc.), Firefox will automatically start a quick find.

2. Continuing A Search (and more tricks)
Because of the differences between browsers, this section is really confusing. So I made three versions, the Chrome version, the Firefox version, and the both version. Pick the one that corresponds to the browser you use — if you use both or neither, you probably want to plod through the both version so that you know the differences. (If you use Internet Explorer or Safari or some other strange and weird browser, take a look at the tips and experiment to see which ones work for you.)

____CHROME____
Beginning a search is all well and good, but if the first result isn’t what you wanted, how do you move on? When you start a search, you’ll get a couple of buttons that let you move to the next or previous result. Clicking these buttons with the mouse works just fine, but if you don’t have your hands on the mouse or you’re clicking other places on the website with your mouse, you may find that repeatedly returning to the buttons is a bit inefficient.

In this case, you need the F3 (Find Next) key. Pressing F3 will immediately jump you to the next result on the page. (If you close the search box and then realize you need to keep searching, F3 will still take you to the next result.) If you miss a result and need to go back, just use Shift-F3.

But F3 is kind of hard to reach, isn’t it? Just pressing Enter (and Shift-Enter) does exactly the same thing while you’re in the search box. There is only one small limitation: if you close the search box, Enter won’t reopen it–only F3 will.

When you press F3, the text in the search box is highlighted, allowing you to easily change the word you’re searching for if you need to.

____FIREFOX____
Beginning a search is all well and good, but if the first result isn’t what you wanted, how do you move on? If you start your search by pressing Ctrl-F or F3, rather than /, you’ll get a couple of buttons that let you move to the next or previous result. Clicking these buttons works just fine, but if you don’t have your hand on the mouse or you’re clicking on other things while searching, you may find that repeatedly returning to the buttons is a bit inefficient. And if you started your search with /, you apparently can’t go to the next result at all.

In this case, you need the F3 (Find Next) key. Pressing F3 will immediately bring you to the next result on the page. (If you close the search box and then realize you need to keep searching, F3 will still take you to the next result.) If you miss a result and need to go back, just use Shift-F3.

But F3 is kind of hard to reach. Just pressing Enter (and Shift-Enter) does exactly the same thing while you’re in the search box. However, this trick does have a couple of limitations:

  • When searching with / (but not when using Control-F), pressing Enter will follow a link if the text found was in a link. If you land on a link and want to keep searching, you need to press F3 instead of Enter.
  • After closing the search box, Enter doesn’t return to a search, only F3 does.

If you don’t think you can remember the differences between F3 and Enter, you can just forget about the Enter tip and use F3 instead–slightly less efficient, but simpler.

____BOTH____
Beginning a search is all well and good, but if the first result isn’t what you wanted, how do you move on? If you start your search by pressing Ctrl-F or F3 in Firefox, or anytime in Chrome, you’ll get a couple of buttons that let you move to the next or previous result. Clicking these buttons with the mouse works just fine, but if you don’t have your hands on the mouse or you’re clicking other places on the website with your mouse, you may find repeatedly returning to the buttons is a bit inefficient.

In this case, you need the F3 (Find Next) key. Pressing F3 will immediately bring you to the next result on the page. (If you close the search box and then realize you need to keep searching, F3 will still take you to the next result.) If you miss a result and need to go back, just use Shift-F3.

But F3 is kind of hard to reach. In both Chrome and Firefox, just pressing Enter (and Shift-Enter) does exactly the same thing while you’re in the search box. However, this one does have a few limitations: In Firefox, when searching with / (NOT when using Control-F), this will follow a link if the text found was in a link. In both Firefox and Chrome, after closing the search box, Enter doesn’t return to a search, only F3 does.

In Chrome, when you press F3, the text in the search box is highlighted, allowing you to easily change the word you’re searching for if you need to. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen in Firefox.

In Firefox, when searching with /, pressing Enter while over a link will follow it.

Part 3: Internet Explorer 7 Notes
While I won’t exactly consider this a complete test, I got a chance to try this tip out in Internet Explorer 7. (Note that the current version is 9, so some of this information might potentially be out of date considering your browser.)

  • Oddly, you can’t use F3 to advance to the next match–but it still works to bring up search in the first place. Go figure.
  • When you press Enter, it seems that the search function finds the first match after where you last clicked on the page (though that point isn’t actually displayed in the browser).
  • You can still use Enter to advance to the next match.


Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad
http://www.thetechnicalgeekery.com

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

An Introduction

This newsletter will provide some sort of computer tip, information about computers, or other computer-related topic about every week. I had originally intended to send the text directly as an email, but then I had a problem. I wanted to provide a way for people to ask questions and make comments, but doing so would require me turning the group into a mailing list, which would create a large volume of email that many people wouldn’t care about or know what to do with. So I reconsidered and decided to post the actual text on a blog, located (here) at http://tips.thetechnicalgeekery.com.

Every week, provided you’re subscribed to the newsletter, I’ll send out an email containing the title of the week’s tip and the quick introduction/description line. (You can subscribe from the sidebar of this blog if you aren’t already.) I’ll then provide a link to the actual post on the blog. When you’re done reading, if you have any questions or comments, I encourage you to add a comment at the bottom (you don’t have to register to do so). I think that having a way to answer questions about anything I wasn’t clear enough about or forgot to cover in the article will make the newsletter a lot better. If you make a good point, I might modify the original text so that it’s better for anyone who stumbles across it in the future.

I like to include screenshots in my tips where they help people figure out what I’m talking about. For instance, interested in the program I write these tips in? If you’re not already, let me tell you that I’ve had multiple people accuse me of “breaking the computer” when they see me using this software on a public system. (If you’re still curious after seeing the screenshot, I plan to cover this program in a future article.)

You can browse or search the archives of previous tips anytime at http://tips.thetechnicalgeekery.com like you could any blog.

As always, comments/questions welcome, and how about you go read the first tip?