Menu Home End users Hacking Humour Interviews Opinons Reviews All articles Issues Books
Free Software magazine
Ryan Cartwright [end_users]

Ten fantastic keyboard shortcuts in [writer] [openoffice] [keyboard-shortcuts] [top-ten]

A lot of software users I meet seem to feel they are not using their software as efficiently as they could. If that includes you, then listen up. Here is my list of the ten, lesser-known, Writer keyboard shortcuts that will help you improve your productivity.

When I say "lesser known" I should really say poorly documented or not documented at all. That said, when I've taught on keyboard shortcuts in the past these are the ones that fewer users seem to know of. Something else to note is that although these are all for Writer, you may find some of them in other word processors as well.

Why I use keyboard shortcuts

I'm a keyboard type of person. When I first learned to use computers there was no mouse. For my first real application work the mouse was used solely to position coordinates: commands were entered with the keyboard. What can I say, I like using the keyboard. So when I come across an application for the first time I seek out the keyboard shortcuts. Not for me the constant moving of hand from keyboard to mouse.

Even if you are a dedicated mouse user, learning a few -- er -- key shortcuts can drastically improve the way you work. When you are in the middle of a long edit, hitting CTRL+S is a lot quicker than clicking the save button. Personally I'm not satisfied with just using CTRL+S, CTRL+P and ALT+Menu-Option, I demand more from my keyboard shortcuts! These shortcuts are in no particular order and I use some of them more often than others; however, all of them save me a lot of time.

If you do a lot of typing (as opposed to pseudo desktop publishing) in Writer, it's definitely worth remembering some of these. They are also very useful if you find yourself writing documents longer than the average letter--for example I often prepare my column pieces in Writer. These also reflect those which end-users find more useful when I teach them.

Moving paragraphs

Ever wanted to move a entire paragraph up or down in your document? Cut and paste may work but it takes time. A more elegant solution is to just move the paragraph itself.

  • Place your cursor in a paragraph.
  • Now use CTRL+ALT+ up or down cursor arrows to move the whole paragraph up and down in the document one paragraph at a time
  • CTRL+up/down works on some set-ups as well.

Change paragraph alignment

This is one of the better known ones but I still find a lot of people are unaware of how much time it can save you.

  • CTRL+L will change the current paragraph to be aligned left
  • CTRL+R to be right aligned
  • CTRL+E to centre it
  • CTRL+J to justify it

Inserting a page break

Again one that some people know but not that many end-users. In fact I have found a lot of people don't even know what a page break is and they will just press RETURN several times to move some text onto the next page. Which of course means they come unstuck when the text above is reduced somehow. A page break guarantees the text following it goes on a new page.

  • Use CTRL+ENTER to this is a new paragraph start a fresh page

Moving around the document

As you use these keyboard shortcuts more you may begin to almost resent having to use the mouse. Particularly to go to defined places like the beginning or end of a line or the document. Most users know about using the cursor keys to move around but there are some ways to jump rather than move.

  • HOME takes you to the start of the current line (not the current paragraph)
  • END will go to the end of the line
  • CTRL+HOME takes you to the start of the document
  • CTRL+END takes you to the end of the document
  • CTRL+ LEFT/RIGHT cursor keys moves you in that direction by one word

Selecting without the mouse

Once you get used to moving around using the keyboard you'll find it useful to select text using it as well. Again some of this is quite well known.

  • Hold down SHIFT as you move the cursor to select the text you are moving over.
  • SHIFT+HOME selects from the current character to the start of the line
  • SHIFT+END selects from the current character to the end of line
  • Once a line is selected, SHIFT + UP or DOWN cursor keys respectively will add lines above or below to the selection
  • CTRL+SHIFT+HOME selects from the current position to the start of the document
  • CTRL+SHIFT+END does the opposite.

Applying styles and formatting as you type

Styles should be a staple tool of any Writer user, much more so than Microsoft Word users because of the key part styles play in Writer. You can use keyboard shortcuts to apply typical styles to the current paragraph.

  • CTRL+1 = Heading 1
  • CTRL+2 = Heading 2
  • CTRL+3 = Heading 3
  • CTRL+0 = Default style
  • CTRL+5 = Line spacing to 1.5

Okay the last one is formatting rather than a defined style, but I find it handy and I couldn't think where else to include it in this document.

Applying list levels as you type

Suppose you have simple multi-level bullet list like this..

  • Item 1
  • Item 2

    • Item 2-1
  • Item 3

The way I see many users create that is to type it all as one list then go back and insert tabs into item 2a. You see, if you insert the tab as you go (that is type "Item 2" then press ENTER then TAB then type "Item 2-1") when you arrive at "Item 3" you find it is on the same level as Item 2-1. Pressing Backspace will just remove the bullet - not what you want at all. Try it, you'll see what I mean. Go on, I'll wait.

You can avoid this mess by applying the list levels as you type. Using SHIFT+TAB at the start of a list item will move it up one level in the list. Here's a step-by-step example to produce the above list.

  • Switch on bullet lists (on some window managers SHIFT+F12 will work here).
  • Type "Item 1" and press ENTER
  • Type "Item 2" and press ENTER
  • Press TAB and type "Item 2a", press ENTER
  • Press SHIFT+TAB and type "Item 3"

That results in the bullet list as you want it, without having to go back. This really comes into its own when dealing with long lists or those with multiple nested levels. If it's a numbered list the moving something up to a higher level will of course give it the next available number at that level.

Inserting a non-numbered paragraph into a numbered list

So what happens when you need to have two paragraphs in a single list item? You type the first paragraph, hit ENTER and then delete the bullet point. Okay it works, but for me it's one too many actions. Try hitting ALT+ENTER to insert a new paragraph without including a bullet or number. Again for numbered lists the numbering will continue the next time you press ENTER without the ALT. I shall leave the argument as to whether list items should contain multiple paragraphs for another day.

Superscript and Subscript

When I found this one I was particularly happy because I often found myself typing things which required super or subscript and applying after the fact is a right royal pain. These shortcuts enable you to toggle super or sub script mode as you type.

  • CTRL+SHIFT+P toggles superscript mode
  • CTRL+SHIFT+B toggles subscript mode

Moving objects and images

The final one is the one use less often but it's still useful. When you have an object (image, drawing etc.) I find the mouse can be a little imprecise when moving it around, particularly if that is fine-tuning the placement.

  • ALT+ARROW KEYS moves a selected object on the page.


Well that's it. The list is not exhaustive and I am sure you will have other shortcuts you find valuable. Feel free to share them here as a comment if you are so inclined. Of course it's entirely possible you are those modern types that likes these new fangled mouse thingies. Well so be it but if you do a lot of typing/writing in Writer you could well find these useful. They take practice but start with one or two and keep at it. After a while you find you forget where the menu or toolbar equivalent is!


Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.