Five Essential Word Keyboard Shortcuts

If you do a lot of writing, you’ll know how important it is to get into a flow. Once the words are rushing out, you don’t want to interrupt your rhythm in any way. That means you want to keep your hands on the keyboard. Stopping to use the mouse takes too long, is often imprecise, and worst of all, it breaks up that flow.

Some keyboard shortcuts are very well known: Ctrl-P prints the document, Ctrl-S saves it, and Ctrl-Z undoes the last thing you did. (Quick tip – did you know that Ctrl-Y is the opposite of Ctrl-Z? it redoes whatever you just undid.)

But Word is equipped with a number of other keyboard shortcuts, and some of them make annoying tasks easy and instantaneous. Here are five shortcuts that I personally use almost every time I am writing or editing a document.

Remove Formatting

Sometimes you copy text from another document, or a web page, and it’s got a bunch of bolding, underlining, text sizes, and fonts. Or sometimes you just get a little carried away with the formatting options yourself.

If you want to strip all the formatting out of some text, select the text, and hit Crtl-Space. The text returns to the basic text settings for the style that’s applied to it. The nice thing is that you don’t have to pick through whatever formatting changes were made one by one – they’re all stripped away at once.

Move Paragraph

Organization is key to good writing, and that means you can make a lot of changes to a document as you write – moving blocks of text from one section to another, reordering lists, and so on. It can be slow and cumbersome to do it by cutting and pasting paragraphs repeatedly, and it’s easy to misplace some text by cutting it and forgetting to paste it.

Here’s the solution: Alt-Shift-up and down arrow moves text above the last paragraph, or below the next one. Press it multiple times and you’ll watch your text whiz up and down the document.

You don’t even have to select a paragraph; Word moves the whole paragraph that your cursor is currently in. If you have to move items in a list around, this is the easiest and surest way to do it.

But if you do select multiple paragraphs, Word can work with that, too: it moves the entire selected block of text up and down in the same way.

Change Case

Maybe you’ve got a block of words in ALL CAPITALS that you want to change to normal, non-shouty text. Or maybe you just realized that the opening paragraph in your manifesto really should go for the caps-lock look. You don’t want to spend all your time re-tying this text, potentially introducing new errors while you do it.

Whenever you need to change the case of some text, Ctrl-F3 is your best friend. It cycles through UPPER CASE, Title Caps, and lower case every time you press it.

If you haven’t selected any text, it changes the case of the word your cursor is currently on. If you select a block of text, then the whole block changes at once. (Oddly enough, if you select whole paragraphs, for some reason it works slightly differently – Word puts only the first word of the paragraph in title case, although it works correctly for upper and lower case.)

Instant Heading Styles

We’ll talk more another time about why heading styles are so important, but for now, I’ll assume you use heading styles to organize your documents. Out of the box, Word provides an easy and intuitive shortcut to apply them.

Put your cursor in the paragraph you want to create as a heading – you don’t need to select the whole paragraph, just have your cursor in it.

Now hold down the the Ctrl and Alt keys, and press 1, 2, or 3. Heading 1, 2, or 3 style is applied automatically.

The only odd thing is that Word stopped there: I often find myself adding shortcuts for Heading 4 and 5 when I’m working with more complex documents.

Increase or Decrease Heading Level

Put your cursor on a heading, hold down Alt and Shift, and press the right arrow key. Whatever level of heading it was just dropped down a level: if it was a Heading 1 style, it’s now got Heading 2 applied.

The shortcut is slightly annoying when you’re on regular text, though: your body text automatically has a heading applied to it, the same level as the more recent heading in your document.

The real power of this shortcut, though, is when you use it with a block of selected text that has headings embedded in it. Say you’re moving a bunch of text into a different part of the document, and it’s now under a lower heading level. Select the section you’re moving, and use the same shortcut, Alt-Shift-right arrow. All of the headings in the text you’ve selected shift down a level, but the body text isn’t affected. Incredibly useful in the right situation.

One more thing – you might know that bulleted and numbered lists also can have multiple levels. The same keyboard shortcut moves their levels up and down – for example, if you hit Alt-Shift-right arrow on an item in a numbered list, they indent and start a lettered list (a, b, c, etc.). Try it out on one of your documents – you might save yourself a lot of time messing around with Words finicky numbering styles.


Maybe you won’t use all these keyboard shortcuts in a single sitting, but try them out the next time you’re working in a document with complex formatting. You might be surprised at how easily and automatically they become part of your editing process.

There are more hidden gem shortcut keys in Word, too – if you know any, add them in the comments!

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