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How to Use the Insert Key

Barbara from Florida asks:

Okay, you told me where to find the Insert key, but what is it used for?

Ah, the Insert key. Some people hate it, others just dislike it. So, all things considered, maybe you are better off living in blissful ignorance!

Essentially, it only has a couple of functions, neither of which are all that important in the grand scheme of things, but if you are a die-hard word processing enthusiast, you may want to know, so here’s what it can do:

In text applications like Microsoft Word, the Insert key toggles the overtype mode on and off. When it is on, you can type over the top of text you have already typed. When the overtype mode is off, typing in front of words simply pushes them further to the right of your screen. Some people like overtype for filling in forms with lines where answers are required.

Sounds sensible, right? Well it was until people started pressing it by accident and staring incredulously at the ruinous effect it had on their Word documents. It was annoying. In fact, it was so annoying that in 2007 Microsoft disabled it by default in Microsoft Word.

If you want to activate it in Word 2010, open Word then click File > Options > Advanced, and find the Editing Options. Here you can choose to check or uncheck the boxes that enable the use of the Insert key to activate the overtype mode in Word.

Editing Options for Insert Key [1]

Alternatively, you can right-click on the status bar at the bottom of the screen and select Overtype. Now you can press the Insert key to toggle it on and off.

However, there is another use for the Insert key in later versions of Word. It can be used to paste copied text and objects. Let’s say the ‘V’ key on your keyboard has met an untimely death and you can no longer use the Ctrl+V keyboard shortcut to paste text and objects in a Word document. Well, Shift+Insert will do the job too.

You can even take this a step further, because if there is one thing I hate about keyboard shortcuts, it’s that there are just too many keys to press. I mean, Shift and Insert? That’s two whole keys! Thankfully, Microsoft has my back.

Go back to the same advanced options screen in Word by clicking File > Options > Advanced and scroll down to the Cut, Copy and Paste menu. Here you will find an option to use the Insert key by itself to paste text and objects!

Paste with Insert Key [2]

So, love it or hate it, the Insert key is here to stay for a while yet and it does serve some purpose, even if it is not a very exciting one.

~Jonathan Wylie