Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Potential Shortcut Key Problems.
by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 11, 2019)
Many users, especially when they are first entering text (as opposed to subsequent editing and formatting), prefer to accomplish as many tasks as possible from the keyboard. Word provides a generous supply of built-in keyboard shortcuts (these are described in the on-line Help and in various issues of WordTips) and also allows users to create their own shortcuts by displaying the Customize dialog box and choosing Keyboard.
Shortcut keys can be assigned to commands, macros, styles, and font characters. The keys can be any combination of Alt, Ctrl, Shift, and any character that can be entered from the keyboard, including a space. You can even duplicate the way Word uses prefix keys for some international characters.
Users are often advised to use Alt as part of a shortcut key because it is less used by Word's built-in shortcuts. This certainly applies to Alt+Ctrl and Alt+Shift combinations. But users should be very wary of using Alt alone. The reason is that all top-level menu items are accessed from the keyboard with the Alt key. For example, Alt+I accesses the Insert menu. If you assign Alt+I as a shortcut key, Word does not warn you that Alt+I is reserved for a menu item. In fact, the dialog box describes Alt+I as 'unassigned.' This is true of all other menu commands, as well.
You can change the hotkey for menu items in the Customize dialog by changing the name. For example, if you change "&Insert" to "Ins&ert," the hotkey becomes Alt+E, and Word does not warn you that this combination is already assigned to the Edit menu. The net result is that it does not work properly for either one. There are also other built-in menus that can be added to the menu bar that equally conflict with the existing menu commands—again, totally without warning.
Some people regard this shortcoming as a bug in Word, but it appears to have been done by design. (Why? Who knows!) Users should be aware of the potential problem, and be alert to possible conflicts when creating their own keyboard and menu shortcuts.
WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (640) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Potential Shortcut Key Problems.
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