How to use a computer keyboard
A computer keyboard is an input device used with all types of computers. Newer devices like a smartphone and tablet even still use an on-screen keyboard. This page is designed to help new computer users become more familiar and efficient with their keyboard. For new users, we suggest reading through all of the below sections and doing all of the practices.
- Connecting the keyboard.
- How to turn on the keyboard.
- Familiarizing yourself with the keyboard.
- Overview of each section of the keyboard.
- Start typing and how to position hands.
- Correcting errors.
- Deleting text one letter and one word at a time.
- Using the arrow keys to move around.
- Uppercase, lowercase, and all caps.
- Typing numbers and symbols above numbers.
- Getting to the beginning and end of a line.
- Highlighting text using the keyboard.
- Copy and paste text using the keyboard.
- Using the 10-key.
- Keyboard shortcuts.
- Additional practice sentences.
Connecting the keyboard
Before you can use the keyboard, it must be connected properly to the computer. If you have a new computer and need help connecting the keyboard, or the keyboard is not working, see our steps on connecting and installing a keyboard.
How to turn on the keyboard
All computer keyboards with a cord connecting them to the computer automatically turn on when the computer turns on. However, if you have a wireless keyboard, it can be turned on and off to conserve the batteries. To turn these keyboards on, flip the keyboard over and look at the back of the keyboard. Near the bottom or top of the keyboard should be a switch that can be moved to the on or off position.
You can test if the computer is on by pressing the Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, or Num Lock keys and looking for an indicator light. As these keys are enabled or disabled, a light should turn on or off. If you're unable to get any lights, the keyboard is not working. For help with troubleshooting a keyboard, see: Why don't any keys on my keyboard work?
Familiarizing yourself with the keyboard
Below is an overview of a desktop computer keyboard. This picture shows the major sections of the keyboard. Each section is explained in detail below.
Overview of each section of the keyboard
The alphanumeric keyboard is the primary portion of the keyboard with letters, numbers, punctuation, and some symbol keys. Today, most users use QWERTY keyboards, as shown in the illustrations. You can tell if you are using a QWERTY keyboard by looking at the first six letters to see if they spell "QWERTY."
Each of the group of alphanumeric keys is positioned on rows of keys. Most keyboards have six rows of keys with the fingers resting on the home row. Other keyboard rows include the function keys, number keys, top row, bottom row, and spacebar row. See the link below for a full listing of each key and symbol and their functions.
The function keys or F1 through F12 or F19 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.
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.
Control keys and Ctrl keys are different.
Although not available on all computer keyboards, especially laptops, the keypad gives the user quick access to numbers and math functions such as plus, divide, times, and subtract. See the numeric keypad page for further information, pictures, and related links.
In our example picture, the Saitek keyboard has a wrist pad intended to help support the user's wrists. Although many keyboards do not include a wrist pad, hundreds of different options can be purchased at a computer store or online.
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.
Start typing and how to position hands
Before typing, place your hands in the proper position, with your fingers on the home row keys. When you are typing, glance at your fingers to ensure that each finger is pressing the correct key.
There are small bumps (homing bars) on the "F" and "J" keys that help you find the proper position without looking at the keyboard. Your index fingers on both hands should be able to feel these bumps.
Below is a picture to help illustrate where each finger should be positioned and the home row keys. Your left-hand fingers should be positioned over A, S, D, and F keys, and your right hand should be positioned over the J, K, L, and ; keys. Also, each color helps illustrate what fingers are responsible for what key.
If you have never learned how to type properly and use the hunt-and-peck method of typing, we strongly encourage you to practice throughout this page using the proper technique. Not only does this improve your typing efficiency, but it also reduces the strain you may encounter from having to look down at the keyboard.
Once your hands are in the proper position, practice typing the below sentence, which has every letter in the alphabet.
Practice typing every letter
It's inevitable that you'll make errors as you type, the backspace key and delete key help you correct these errors. Using the backspace key erases one character to the left of the cursor, and delete erases one character to the right of the cursor.
Apple computer keyboards have two delete keys. The big delete key on the keyboard acts the same as a backspace key, and the other delete key acts as a delete key.
Use the below practice are to practice correcting errors.
You can press delete or backspace multiple times to delete multiple characters.
Using the arrow keys to move around
One of the best methods to improve your efficiency on the keyboard is to avoid using the mouse whenever possible. Having to move your hand away from the keyboard to the mouse and then back to the keyboard wastes a lot of time. One method of avoiding the mouse is to use the arrow keys to move the cursor instead of using the mouse to move the cursor.
In the practice area below, use the arrow keys to move the cursor to where you want to make a correction or add new text.
Practice using the arrow keys
Press Tab on the keyboard to place the text cursor jump in the text field below. Pressing "Tab" on a web page moves the cursor or selection to the next available interactive element, such as a button, text field, or hyperlink.
Deleting text one letter and one word at a time
It may also be necessary to delete more than one letter or even a word at a time. Use the below practice to delete all of the text from a line.
Practice deleting one letter and one word at a time
Uppercase, lowercase, and all caps
Unless your Caps Lock key is turned on, your computer types everything in lowercase. To make the first letter of a sentence or word uppercase, hold down the Shift on the keyboard and press the letter you want to capitalize.
If you want all of the words capitalized press the Caps Lock, which should turn on an LED indicator indicating it is enabled. Once enabled, everything remains capitalized unless you hold down the Shift or press the Caps Lock again.
Use the below practice to type text in uppercase and lowercase.
Practice typing uppercase, lowercase, and all caps
Getting to the beginning and end of a line
Practice going to the beginning and end of a line using the keyboard
Highlighting text using the keyboard
Practice highlighting text using the keyboard
When text is highlighted, you can press the Del to delete all highlighted text or start typing to replace highlighted text.
Typing numbers and symbols above numbers
The keyboard has two areas where numbers can be typed on the keyboard. In this section, we go over the numbers and symbols above the numbers at the top of the keyboard. Using the 10-key keypad is covered later.
The numbers 1 through 0 at the top of the keyboard each have two functions, the number and the symbol. The number key alone enters the number, and if you hold down the Shift while pressing the number, its symbol is entered. For example, pressing the 2 key enters "2" on the screen. Holding down Shift and pressing 2 enters the at sign (@).
Below is a list of each number key and the symbols on a US keyboard. Clicking any of the links opens a page with full information about each of the symbols with their uses.
- 1 (!) exclamation mark
- 2 (@) at sign
- 3 (#) hash
- 4 ($) dollar sign
- 5 (%) percent
- 6 (^) caret
- 7 (&) ampersand
- 8 (*) asterisk
- 9 (() open parenthesis
- 0 ()) close parenthesis
Practice entering numbers and symbols
Copy and paste text using the keyboard
Practice copying and pasting text using the keyboard
Further steps and information on copying and pasting text using the keyboard, mouse, or touch screen on any device is also on the link below.
Using the 10-key
If your keyboard has a numeric keypad, it can save you a lot of time when you're typing numbers in a calculator or spreadsheet.
Before using the 10-key, make sure your right hand is properly positioned on the keypad. The home row for the numeric keypad is 4, 5, 6, and Enter. Your index finger on your right hand should be on the number 4. Your middle finger should be on 5, your ring finger on 6, and your pinky rests on the plus (+) key.
There is usually a small bump on the five key to help position your right hand without looking.
After your hand is in the position, you can use the below practice to practice using the keypad.
Keyboard 10-key practice
If your keyboard has a Num Lock key, the Number lock must be turned on for the numbers to work on the keypad.
Another good way to practice using the 10-key is to open the calculator on your computer and enter numbers using the calculator. Pressing the Enter on the 10-key with your pinky after entering a math formula gives you the total.
One of the best methods of becoming more efficient with your computer is to learn and memorize as many keyboard shortcuts as possible. As mentioned above, your typing becomes much faster if you don't have to move your hand to the mouse. So, keyboard shortcuts help increase the speed at which you can use your computer.
Computer Hope has hundreds of keyboard shortcuts for popular programs and operating systems. Below are a few links to our keyboard shortcuts to help get you started.
Additional practice sentences
Practice makes perfect, and the only way to increase your speed and become better at typing is to practice. Below are some more sentences to practice that also relate to everything you learned on this page. Not only is doing the below practices going to help you learn to type, but it also helps reinforce everything you learned on this page and teach you a little more.