A computer keyboard is one of the primary input devices used with a computer that looks similar to those found on electric typewriters, but with some additional keys. The modern keyboard is based on the typewriter, a typing device that was first developed and patented in 1868 by Christopher Sholes.
Keyboards allow you to input letters, numbers, and other symbols into a computer that often function as commands. The following image shows a Saitek keyboard with indicators pointing to each of the major key sections of a keyboard.
Overview of each section of the keyboard
The alphanumeric part is the primary portion of the keyboard that contains letters, numbers, punctuation and some of the symbol keys. Today most users utilize QWERTY style keyboards, as shown in the below graphic illustration.
The function keys or F1 through F12 keys are used in programs as shortcut keys to performed frequently performed tasks. For example, the F1 key is the key to open the online help for most programs.
On some keyboards, the function keys may be used to activate additional functions on a computer. Used in combination with the Fn key, the function keys can activate other functions, like changing screen brightness, accessing media controls, or turning off the computer. The additional functions available by pressing the Fn key and the function keys depend on the keyboard design.
Control and toggle keys
The control keys or toggle keys give the user additional control over text manipulation and cursor placement. They may also be used as shortcut keys in many programs. See our control keys definition for additional information and examples.
Tip: The control keys should not be confused with the Ctrl keys.
Although not available on all computer keyboards, especially laptops; the keypad gives the user a quick access to numbers and math functions such as plus, divide, times, and subtract. See the keypad definition for further information, pictures, and related links.
In the example of the Saitek keyboard above, the plastic wrist pad included with the keyboard is intended to help support the user's wrists and relieve stress from typing. Although many keyboards do not include a wrist pad, hundreds of different options can be purchased at a computer store or online.
Warning: Experts debate the need for wrist pads; many Ergonomic experts argue that using a wrist pad may be more stressful and may lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. You may want to do your own research before purchasing one.
Finally, the arrow keys are four directional keys that allow the user to move their cursor or change the section displayed on a page. See our arrow keys definition for further information on this term and related links.
Special keys or media keys on a multimedia keyboard
Multimedia keyboards have additional buttons not found on a traditional keyboard. See our special keys page for further information.
Types of keyboards
Today, most keyboards are similar to each other, but may be missing one or more of the sections mentioned earlier (e.g. the keypad). Where keyboards begin to differ is in the keyboard layout. While most keyboards use the QWERTY layout, there are still people who use the DVORAK layout.
A laptop keyboard is different than a desktop keyboard to help reduce the size and the overall weight of the laptop. Most laptop keyboards are made smaller by placing the keys closer to each other and not always including control keys or a keypad. For a laptop to have all the same functions of a desktop keyboard, laptop keyboards use a Fn key that is used in conjunction with other keys to perform special functions. For example, pressing the Fn key and the up or down arrow on the keyboard shown below, increases and decreases the brightness of the screen.
Another difference with a laptop keyboard is the type of switch beneath each key or how the keys feel when pressed down. Some users may even experience more typing errors when typing on a laptop because of how easy it can be to press another key next to the key you intended to press.
Smartphone and tablet keyboards
- How can I improve my typing?
- Keyboard shortcut keys
- Computer keyboard manufacturers
- Computer keyboard help and support.
- Not all of the keys on my keyboard are functional.