Function Keys F1 – F12, what are they and how to use them


Welcome to the first edition of “Tech Made Easy.” This is where the rubber meets the road and tech short cuts are made easy.

Hello, my name is Aubrey Love and I am the newest edition to the Fort Sill Tribune as a contract writer. I have been working in the computer industry since the PC was invented back in the 70’s and am now a retired U.S. Army vet. In the past I have worked for such companies as Dell Computers in the Engineering Research and Development lab, NASA in the IT lab, Lockheed Martin in the Flight Simulator lab and various other businesses. I have written countless tech manuels/instructions, white papers and a book “Linux the Other Windows” and am currently writing “Linux Made Simple.” Over the years I have picked up a great deal of tips, tricks and shortcuts and look forward to sharing some of them with you.

Function keys are a time saver when you need to get a lot done with limited time to do so. Shortcut keys are a combination of two or more keys that simulate some functions of a mouse or other pointing devices.  On a side note, you may in some instances use the ctrl, alt and shift keys in conjunction with the function key as a functional shortcut.

In some work environments you are provided a cardboard template or a peel and stick label placed above or around your function keys to indicate what those keys will do within your specific work programs or software. This may be a database, a special word processer or personnel scheduling program designed specifically for your company. When you are working in those programs you will use the function keys in that manor but when you exit that program and open a more generic or commercial program such as Microsoft Windows or Excel your template should not apply and they will revert back to the default operations of the function and shortcut keys.

Taking a look at your keyboard you will notice a row of “F” keys at the very top. These are known as function keys. Most keyboards today are equipped with keys F1-F12. However some keyboards (especially the older IBM keyboards) may also have keys F13-F24.  The following is a list of the function keys and their basic definitions. Here we will be covering keys F1 through F12 only. Since keyboards with function keys F13 through F24 are no longer used, they will not be discussed in this article.

F1 – This one is almost always reserved as the help key. Most programs will display a help dialog box with a search option and index. Pressing the “Windows” key (located on the bottom row of your keyboard) plus the F1 key will open the Microsoft Windows help and support center.


F2 – In Windows this will highlight the name of any selected folder or icon on your desktop allowing you to simply start typing and rename the selected icon or folder. This is also used to enter the CMOS setup during the computer boot up process for some computer brands such as Dell Computers. It is not recommended to use this option unless you are quiet familiar with the internal settings of how your computer boots and runs. Pressing ALT + Ctrl + F2 will open a document window in Microsoft Word if that program is installed. Ctrl + F2 will display the “print preview” window in Microsoft Word.


F3 – This function key will open a search feature for most programs such as Microsoft Windows while you are at the Windows desktop.

While in MS-DOS mode or a Windows command line mode pressing the F3 key will repeat or retype the last command you typed in.

Pressing the shift key + F3 while in Microsoft Word and most other word processors will change the font from upper to lower case.

In Microsoft Outlook pressing the Windows Key + F3 will open the “Advanced” find/search window.


F4 – On older computers that are still running Microsoft Windows 95 through Windows XP will open the “find” window.

This function key will also open the address bar in Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer.

It will also repeat the last action performed within Microsoft Word version 2000 and newer.

ALT + F4 will close the program window currently active in Microsoft Windows.

For those of us who are constantly multi-tasking, pressing the Ctrl + F4 closes the open window within the current active window in Microsoft Windows.


F5 – In all current Internet browsers, pressing the F5 key will refresh or reload the page or document window that you are currently viewing. If you have multiple tabs open it will only refresh the tab you are currently viewing and has no effect on the others until you click on those tabs and press the F5 key.

In Microsoft Word the F5 key will open the find, replace and go to window.

If you are using Microsoft PowerPoint, F5 will begin your slide show.


F6 – In Internet Explorer, Mozilla  Firefox and most other browsers will move the cursor to the “address bar.”

Ctrl + Shift + F6 toggles between other open Microsoft Word documents. On a side note pressing the ALT + Tab will toggle you between all open applications.


F7 – This will be a real time saver for someone that does a lot work in Microsoft Word or emails in Outlook. Pressing the F7 key will start the spell check and grammar check of your word document or email.

If you need a thesaurus simply highlight the word you would like to check and press the shift + F7 keys.

Caret browsing – no this is not referring to diamonds in your computer, this feature will place a moveable cursor in your web pages allowing you to select text with the keyboard. If you are not familiar with exactly how this works then I would suggest doing a little more research on it before you use it. However, in the interest of getting the most from your computer and if you are so inclined to experiment, go ahead and activate Caret browsing and try it out. After all, turning it off is just as easy as turning it on.


F8 – This one doesn’t really have a lot of function on the desktop but it can be a real life saver in the event that you are not able to boot into Windows successfully. If your computer just will not boot into Windows or you constantly get the infamous “Blue Screen of Death” then the F8 key may cure your problems. Simply power off your computer then reboot, on first boot you should hear one beep. This is good, that is a system self test and the single beep indicates all is well so far. Just after the single beep press the F8 key to be taken to a menu screen. If you were unable to boot into Windows successfully in the past attempts then you should use the up arrow keys to highlight the “Safe Mode” option and press the enter key. Once you have reached the desktop in safe mode you can now reboot the computer as you normally would and all should be fine. If not, press the F8 key again after rebooting and choose one of the system restore options.


F9 – While using Microsoft Word this option will refresh the word document.

When in Microsoft Outlook it will refresh your email account sending and receiving any pending emails.

If you are using a program named Quark 5 or later this function key will open the measurements toolbar.


F10 – In Microsoft Windows this function activates the menu bar of any open application.

Pressing the Shift + F10 provides the same function as right clicking (or left clicking if you are using a left hand mouse) on a hyperlink or any highlighted file or icon.

This function key will also allow you access to the hidden recovery partition on most Compaq, HP, and Sony computers.

The F10 key is also used to enter CMOS on some computers.


F11 – This will allow you to enter and exit the full screen mode in all current/modern Internet browsers.

This function key will also allow you to access the hidden recovery partition on most Dell Computers. In some instances you may need to press the Ctrl + F11 keys to activate this hidden recovery partition on Dell Computers.

This function key will also allow you access to the hidden recovery partition on most eMachines, Gateway and Lenovo computers.


F12 – If you are working in Microsoft Word this function key open the “Save as” window.

Most of us are familiar with the shortcut “Ctrl + S” to save the changes to a word document and Shift + F12 will do the same.

Pressing the Shift + F12 will open a document in Microsoft Word.

The Ctrl + Shift + F12 will print the currently open document in Microsoft Word. It will also preview a page in Microsoft Expression Web, if you are using that program.


So there is the short and to the point facts of how to save a great deal of time by simply making use of your function keys. One of the more prominent things I have learned over the years is that no one knows everything about computers and I really don’t anticipate any one person ever achieving that goal. With that said, if you have any shortcuts, tips or tricks that you would like to share for upcoming articles please feel free to contact me



Also visit my new “About me” blog at


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