How to use a computer mouse

Updated: 05/04/2019 by Computer Hope
Computer Mouse

A computer mouse is a handheld pointing device and input device used with all desktop computers that moves the mouse pointer on the screen. To help with portability, mobile devices like a laptop use a touchpad instead of a mouse. Devices like a smartphone and tablet use a touch screen for their pointer input. This page is designed to help new computer users become more familiar and efficient with a desktop computer mouse.

Connecting a mouse to a computer

Before you can begin to use the mouse, it must be properly connected to the computer and working. If you have a new computer and need help connecting the mouse, or the mouse is not working, see our steps on connecting and installing a mouse.

Familiarizing yourself with the mouse

Today's computer mouse consists of two buttons and a mouse wheel as shown in the picture below. By default, the left button acts as the left-click and is the default mouse button you use for most actions on the mouse. The right mouse button performs the right-click and gives you a menu or other options that are explained later.

Microsoft IntelliMouse with wheel

Tip

If you are left-handed, the mouse buttons can be switched.

As far as the mouse wheel, it is used to scroll up and down and is also explained in further detail later in this document.

Bottom of optical-mechanical and optical computer mouse

A mouse generates movement by using one of two technologies. The first and most popular today is the optical mouse, which uses either LED or laser light to shine a light on a surface that is picked up by a camera to detect movement. The other and older technology is the mechanical mouse, which uses a ball and wheels to determine the movement of the mouse.

Holding the mouse

To hold the mouse, keep your thumb on the side of the mouse and your index finger on the left button and middle finger on the right button. While holding the mouse relax your hand and make sure that your hand is straight with your arm. You should never have your wrist at an angle while using the mouse.

To move the mouse, use either your ring finger and pinky to push and move left and your thumb to move right. All up and down movement is done by gently gripping the mouse and pushing or pulling the mouse.

Moving the mouse pointer

Using your right or left hand pick up the mouse and move it to the center of the mouse pad once in position drag the mouse up, down, left, or right to move the mouse pointer on the screen. If you reach the edge of your mouse pad, pick up the mouse and move it to the opposite side and then continue dragging the mouse in the direction you want the mouse pointer to move.

One way the computer knows the mouse pointers position by using an x-axis and y-axis value. As you move your mouse right, the x-axis value increases, moving left decreases the x-axis value, moving down increases the y-axis, and as moving up decreases the y-axis. Move your mouse and watch the values in the below interactive example.

Mouse x-axis position.
Mouse y-axis position.

Unless the mouse speed is slow or your starting mouse position was at the edge of the mouse pad, your mouse pad should be big enough that it does not require you to pick up the mouse. If you find yourself having to pick up the mouse frequently, you may want to increase the speed of your mouse.

Tip

If you or someone you know needs another way of practicing with the mouse, play a few games of Solitaire or FreeCell. These games are easy to play and can teach how to move, click, and drag something using the mouse.

Understanding the mouse cursor (pointer)

Hover cursor change

As you move your mouse, the cursor (pointer) can change as it hovers over a different types of object. For example, in the animated illustration at right, the mouse cursor is an arrow. When it hovers over text, the mouse pointer changes to an I-beam cursor. Similarly, when the pointer hovers over a hyperlink in a browser, the mouse pointer changes to a hand icon.

Tip

Any program and even a web page can change how a mouse pointer appears.

Practice hovering with the mouse pointer

In this example text, you can practice hovering your mouse over the text to get each of the different mouse pointers. If your mouse pointer is not over any of the text, you should have an arrow as the cursor. As you move your pointer over any of this text, it changes to an I-beam cursor that allows you to select text (explained later). Finally, if you move your mouse cursor over this link to skip to clicking it will change to the hand with the index finger pointing to the link cursor. If you click the link, it will skip to the next section about using your mouse to click.

Clicking with the mouse

While you are going to spend most of the time moving a mouse pointer, another important feature of the mouse is clicking the mouse buttons. As mentioned earlier, most clicking is done with the left mouse button and to left-click you press down on the left mouse button and then let go as if you were pushing a button on a telephone.

Practice left clicking check boxes

Below are several check boxes that can be used to practice left clicking. Check each of the boxes below.

Check box 1.
Check box 2.
Check box 3.
Check box 4.
Check box 5.

Practice left clicking text

Opening a file or program

To open a file or a program on a Windows computer, double-click the left mouse button on the icon of the program or file you want to open. To double-click press your left mouse button twice quickly. For new computer users, double-clicking can be difficult because it requires two quick clicks. If you click too slow or move your mouse while clicking, it may not work.

Tip

If you are having trouble double-clicking your mouse button, you can slow down the mouse clicking speed.

Double-click practice

Double-click this text.

Double-clicking text practice

Note

Although double-clicking on an icon usually opens that file or application, some programs, operating system, menus, and other features may only require a single click to perform an action.

Drag and select files

Selecting an object and highlighting text

When your mouse pointer is on top of an object on your screen (e.g., an icon), click the left mouse button once to highlight the item. If you want to select multiple files as is being done in the animated picture, you can drag a marquee around all objects you want to highlight.

To select text, click the left button at the end of the text you want to select and while holding the button drag the mouse to the left and up if you want to select multiple lines of text.

Practice highlighting text

Below is a text field that can be used to practice highlighting text using the keyboard.

Drag-and-drop

The phrase drag-and-drop is used to describe the action of selecting an object or section of text, moving it (dragging), and then placing it (dropping) into an alternate area. For example, to drag-and-drop an object such as an icon, you would first move your mouse cursor over it. Then, you would press and hold down the left mouse button, move it to the object to the location you desire, and release the button to set it down.

Viewing properties or right-clicking

Right-click menu

To see the properties of anything on the computer, move your mouse cursor over the text, icon, folder, or file press the right mouse button (right-click). If the right-click menu does not give you the options you need, select "Properties" from the drop-down menu. If you view the properties of text, you get a menu with options such as cut, copy, and paste.

Copy and paste using the mouse

After learning how to right-click using the mouse you are given many new options such as the ability to cut, copy, and paste.

Practice copying and pasting using the mouse

Use the two text fields below to copy the text from the first text box into the second box. Highlight the text using your mouse, as explained in a previous section, and then right-click anywhere on the highlighted text. In the menu that appears, select Copy. When then menu disappears, right-click in the second box, where you want to put the text. When the menu appears, select Paste.


Using the mouse wheel

The mouse wheel allows you to scroll up and down on any page without having to use the vertical scroll bar. If your mouse has a wheel, you may have already used this wheel on this page to scroll down as you are reading the page. If you are not familiar with this wheel, use it now to scroll up and down on this page.

Tip

On most computer mice, the mouse wheel is also a button. You can press it to take an optional action, which is dependent on the program you are using. For example, if you click on this Computer Hope link with your mouse wheel by pressing down on the mouse wheel while hovering over the link, the Computer Hope page opens in a new tab.

Other mouse buttons

There are dozens of different mice available for the computer today with many different button options. Another popular configuration for a mouse today is to have two thumb buttons on the left side of the mouse. These two buttons allow you to move back and forward on a browser or can be programmed to perform any other action on your computer.

Logitech Cordless Trackman Optical Trackball mouse

Other types of mice

Finally, keep in mind that many sizes and types of mice can be used with a computer. If you have a hard time using your mouse or want to try something visit a local computer store or online store to see available options. In the picture, is an example of a trackball mouse that is easier for some users to use.

Types of computer mice

Additional information