The modern workplace is awash with different gizmos, gadgets and applications to the extent that learning how to use all of them can be a head-spinning experience. And with NVQs seemingly attainable in every subject from structural design to cig rolling, there's a lot of learning to be done out there. It can be a frustrating experience to put all of your efforts into learning how to use one application properly, only to discover that similar applications operate under a completely different set of rules.

A good example of this is that if you were to pass your driving test in a car with automatic transmission then this would only allow you to drive such a car on the road; you would not be allowed to drive a vehicle with manual transmission until you passed a test in one (although this rule does not work both ways. Passing your test in a manual transmission vehicle does permit you to drive one with automatic transmission). So the obvious course of action is to pass your test in a car with a gearbox and all your bases are covered.

Fortunately Microsoft Office applications have many universal functions that operate across the board. So if you learn keyboard shortcuts in Word, then many of these will work in other Office applications. However, there are also those keyboard shortcuts that are specific to certain applications as they perform tasks that are unique to that application, and there are some shortcuts that produce completely different results when applied in different applications. Let us first look at some universal shortcuts.

Many keyboard shortcuts are easy to remember because they include the initial letter of the action they perform. For example, Ctrl+C, will copy the selection to the clipboard, and Ctrl+P will print the document. Ctrl+A will select all text and graphics in Word, but also an entire worksheet in Excel. Other shortcuts do not use the initial letter and so are not so easy to remember. Ctrl+V, for example, will paste the contents of the clipboard (Ctrl+P has already been designated to print, remember), and Ctrl+B will make selected text bold, or remove bold formatting. These basic commands can be used in all Office applications, and, indeed in many others.

Obviously different applications have their own shortcuts to carry out functions that are not performed by others. For example, in Outlook Ctrl+Alt+S will send an email, but the same shortcut applied in Word will split the window. And pressing Ctrl+Y will open the Go To Folder dialog box in Outlook, but the same shortcut used in Excel will redo the last undone action. So be aware that with Office keyboard shortcuts it is not always a case of all for one and one for all.

Other shortcuts that are unique to specific applications include Ctrl+Q in Outlook, which will mark a message as read or unread, while in Excel, Ctrl+1 will display the Format Cells dialog box.

Other, less well-known shortcuts include a quick way to change the font size in Word without the mouse. Simply select the text you want to change and then hold down Ctrl and Shift and press > to increase the font size. You will notice that the font size increases every time the > key is pressed. Conversely, (and rather obviously) holding down the same keys but pressing < will decrease the font size.

There are many more keyboard shortcuts in Microsoft Office that are there to make life easier for us, so why not familiarise yourself with them and save time by not having to switch constantly between keyboard and mouse while you are working.