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How to use your keyboard to navigate dialog boxes in Excel for the Mac


In this video, we'll look at shortcuts for navigating dialog boxes on a Mac.

Excel has a large number dialog boxes that you will use frequently. Some examples include Format Cells, find and replace, spelling, paste special, go to special, and many more.

On a Mac, you have a more limited ability to select controls in dialog boxes, but it is possible to drive these dialogs entirely from the keyboard.

First, to allow you to access all dialog controls, you need to enable a preference.

Go to System Preferences > then Keyboard > and to the shortcuts tab.

Then make sure "All controls" is selected in the Full Keyboard Access area.

This will let you tab and shift tab to select all dialog box controls.

To illustrate, let's look at the Format Cells dialog, which provides many options in a tabbed interface.

First, notice this dialog has an active Tab, which is remembered from the last time you accessed the dialog.

In Mac 2011, to switch tabs, you can use Control + tab to move right.

To reverse direction and go left, just add the shift key.

To step through all available controls, use the Tab key.

Notice that each control is highlighted when active. 

Add shift to reverse direction.

For lists that are already open (for example, fonts in this case) use the up and down arrow keys to make a selection.

For dropdown controls, like Underline , use the spacebar to open, and arrow keys to navigate options. To confirm a selection, press either Enter or the spacebar.

After you select a checkbox, you can toggle it on or off with the spacebar.

Note that Mac dialog boxes have a default button selected. In this case OK is the default, which means that pressing return will accept settings and dismiss the dialog.

It's possible to tab to Cancel button, and then use the spacebar to push the button.

But, if you just want to cancel the dialog, it's easiest to press the Escape key.

One last note if you are using Excel 2011.

Although it's not evident, you can often select controls in a dialog using the Commend key and a letter.

For example, if I use Control + G for Go To, I can use Command + S to access Go To Special. From there, I can use Command C for comments, Command O for Constants, Command F for formulas and so on.

At the time of this recording, in early 2016, this feature doesn't appear to work in the current version of Office 2016.

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Dave Bruns

Hi - I'm Dave Bruns, and I run Exceljet with my wife, Lisa. Our goal is to help you work faster in Excel. We create short videos, and clear examples of formulas, functions, pivot tables, conditional formatting, and charts.