Word 365, 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010 (see Resources below for macOS, iOS, Android, Windows 10 app equivalents)

In this blog post, I show you how to assign commands to keyboard shortcuts in Word to enable you to work faster, more efficiently and with increased precision, thereby saving you time and improving your productivity. As well, and perhaps more importantly, by giving your mousing hand a break, keyboard shortcuts can help you reduce the risk of repetitive strain injury (RSI).

I show you some popular keyboard shortcuts to get you started, and a few lesser known shortcuts that will have you working like a Word fiend.

Jump to

Background to keyboard shortcuts

I’m showing my age here, but when I first began to use a word processor (WP), there was no such thing as a mouse. All the instructions we gave to our WP were done via the keyboard, using sometimes complex combinations of the Alt, Shift, Control and Function keys.

My first WP was WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS (released in 1989), which had a laminated cut-out ‘cheat card’ that sat over the keyboard’s function keys as a reminder of the combinations (or shortcuts) we needed to use for common tasks such as copy, paste, centre, bold, underline, as well as more complicated tasks such as mail merge. There were literally hundreds of commands, all performed via the keyboard. WordPerfect all but disappeared when MS Windows and its dropdown menus came onto the scene, but amazingly, the keyboard shortcuts survived and still work in Word.

Image showing WordPerfect 5.1 cheat card

WordPerfect 5.1 ‘cheat card’. (Photo courtesy of minuszerodegrees.net)

<Back to top>

Benefits of using the keyboard instead of the mouse

Efficiency. Using keyboard shortcuts instead of the mouse enables you to work faster, more efficiently and with increased precision, thereby saving you time and improving your productivity. As well, for those with mobility or vision disabilities, keyboard shortcuts are indispensable.

Ergonomics. Using keyboard shortcuts helps reduce the risk of repetitive strain injury (RSI), which can be caused by frequent use of the mouse over prolonged periods, with your wrist sitting on the mousepad and raising your fingers to left- and right-click.

Precision. Working on paragraph text, for example, is more accurate using your keyboard than picking up your mouse. Use a combination of the Ctrl + Arrow, Home and End keys to move your cursor around the word, line, paragraph or page more easily (see navigation shortcuts below).

List of popular shortcuts for formatting

How to assign a command to a keyboard shortcut

First find out which default keyboard shortcuts you already have assigned in Word (see Fiendish Tip). Once you’ve done this, you’ll note that not all commands have default keyboard shortcuts assigned; for some, you’ll need to create your own.

Think about the type of work you do and the commands you use frequently that have you reaching for your mouse.

Two shortcuts I couldn’t live without are those that create the em and en dash, and for these I’ve assigned the shortcuts Alt + N (for the en dash) and Alt + M (for the em dash). To do this, I followed these steps:

1. Open Customise Keyboard Shortcuts (File > Options > Customise Ribbon, or use keyboard shortcut Alt + F + T).

2. Select All Commands (or Popular Commands) from the Categories list (or use the arrow key on your keyboard to move down the list).

3. Scroll (or use your arrow key) to move down to the bottom of the list and select Common Symbols.

4. Select En Dash, then in the Press New Shortcut Key box, type the keyboard shortcut you want to use. Press the actual keys on your keyboard — that is, Alt + N (for the en dash) or Alt + M (for the em dash) if you want to use the same shortcuts I use.

5. Press Assign.

Fiendish Tip

Run a list of your existing keyboard shortcuts

1. From the View tab in Word, click Macros > View Macros.

2. In the dropdown menu for the macros location, select Word Commands.

3. In the macro name field, type ListCommands.

4. Click Run.

5. Select Current Keyboard Settings (for all commands currently set), then OK.

This will open a new document with a list of all your currently set Word commands.

Pretty neat, hey!?

For more information about the em and en dash and three alternate ways to insert them into your Word manuscript, see my blog post How to create the em/en dash in Word (4 simple ways).

Lesser known shortcuts to have you working like a pro

While you’ll never need to know Word’s hundreds of shortcuts, to the right are a few of my favourite, lesser known shortcuts to have you working like a Word fiend.

What are your favourite shortcuts? Tell me in the comments below!

List of lesser known keyboard shortcuts


Microsoft Support provides a comprehensive list of keyboard shortcuts, together with their equivalent for macOS, iOS, Android, Windows 10 app and web.

Sign up to Devilish Details

Sign up to receive the Devilish Details blog posts as soon as they’re published, by adding your email address in the Follow box in the side bar or in the pop-up box. I tend to publish a new post every few months, so I promise you won’t be inundated!

Subscribe to Devilish Details!

Subscribe to Devilish Details!

To receive new posts as they're published.

You have successfully subscribed - thank you!

Share This