Navigating the Microsoft Office Ribbon Using a Keyboard

by Avantix Learning Team | Updated April 9, 2021

Applies to: Microsoft® Word® 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019 and 365 (Windows)

This article is the first in a series of navigating and choosing commands in Microsoft Office using the keyboard.

You have the ability to work in Microsoft Office as well as many other programs using just your keyboard. This can be useful for those working with laptops or for any user that has difficulty using a mouse including users with disabilities (particularly those with mobility impairments). For those that use assistive technology such as a screen reader, Microsoft uses a standard called Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) so that users with visual impairments will be able to navigate in the Office programs. You can use these keyboard navigation strategies in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook, Project and Publisher.

Recommended articles: Navigating and Selecting in Dialog Boxes Using a Keyboard and Using a Keyboard to Navigate and Select in Task Panes

Do you want to learn more about Microsoft Word? Check out our virtual classroom or live classroom Word courses >

Showing or hiding the Ribbon

To show or hide the Ribbon, press Ctrl + F1.

Activating keyboard control in the Ribbon

You can use the Alt key to activate keyboard control in the Ribbon. Key tips will appear on the Ribbon as a small label or badge. You can also press F10 instead of Alt.

Below is an activated Ribbon in Microsoft Excel after the user has pressed Alt:

KeyboardActivatedRibbonExcel

Choosing commands in the Ribbon using a keyboard

To choose commands in the Ribbon in any of the Microsoft Office programs using badge letters:

  1. Press Alt. Key Tip labels or badges appear on the Ribbon. One layer of badges appear at a time. Once you choose an option (a letter), then a new set of options appear. The Key Tip badges appear for the active tab.
  2. Press the appropriate badge letter to activate the desired tab.
  3. Press the appropriate badge letter to choose the command in the active tab.
  4. Press Enter to execute the command. If a drop-down menu appears, use the up and down arrows to choose the desired option and then press Enter. A dialog box may appear where you can choose the desired options (more about navigating in dialog boxes in Part 2 of this series).
  5. If you end up with the Key Tips for the wrong tab, press Escape to display the desired Key Tip badges again.

Below is the Ribbon in Microsoft Word after the user has pressed Alt:

Ribbon in Microsoft Word 2010 with badges.

Below is the Ribbon in Microsoft Word after the user has pressed Alt and then N:

Insert Tab on the Ribbon in Microsoft Word 2010 with badges.

Another way to use the keyboard is to move the focus through the tabs and commands. To choose commands on the Ribbon without using badge letters:

  1. Keep pressing F6 until the focus is on the Ribbon (the Ribbon is active). Key Tip labels will appear in the Ribbon.
  2. Press the right or left arrow keys until the desired Ribbon tab is active.
  3. Press Tab to move forward through commands on the active Ribbon tab or Shift + Tab to move backward through commands.
  4. Press Enter to execute the selected command. If a drop-down menu appears, use the up and down arrows to choose the desired option and then press Enter. A dialog box may appear where you can choose the desired options (more about navigating in dialog boxes in Part 2 of this series).

Inserting a page break in Microsoft Word (example)

For example, to use the keyboard to insert a page break in Microsoft Word:

  1. Position the cursor where you want to insert a manual page break.
  2. Press Alt. The Key Tips badges appear on the Ribbon.
  3. Press P to access the Page Setup tab.
  4. Press B to access the Break command. A drop-down menu appears with Page Break selected.
  5. Press Enter.

Getting help

When a command is selected in the Ribbon, press F1 to display the Help dialog. If there is no Help topic associated with the selected command, a general Help topic will be displayed.

Key Tip behaviour

Although the layered approach to Key Tips means that each command in a program has a unique sequence of Key Tips, the same letter may be used on different active tabs.

If a dialog box is open that uses the same letter in a shortcut as a Key Tip, the dialog box “wins” or takes precedence.

In summary, since many users either can’t use a mouse or don’t use a mouse (such as laptop users using track pads), learning to navigate using the keyboard can make things a lot easier. For some users, the keyboard is their only method to navigate and select.

This article was first published on December 1, 2014 and has been updated for clarity and content.

Next article in this series: Navigating and  Selecting in Dialog Boxes Using a Keyboard

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