Using Windows 11

Using a keyboard and voice input in Windows 11

If you need to enter text in an app or dialog in Windows 11, you have a variety of options. Most of the time, you type on a physical keyboard attached to your PC. If you’re using a touchscreen device, you have the option of using a virtual keyboard where you can tap or swipe on the screen. And in a new feature, added to Windows 11 in version 22H2, you can also quite literally tell your PC what to do by using voice commands and dictation. We cover all three forms of input in this section.

Customizing and using a physical keyboard

For the most part, becoming more productive with a desktop or laptop keyboard is a simple matter of adjusting to the different “feel” of each physical device. The very limited set of options for fine-tuning how the keyboard works are still in the old-style Control Panel and haven’t made it to the modern Settings app. To find these options, type keyboard in the Search box and then click the result that appears under the Settings heading. That action opens the dialog shown in Figure 3-28.

Figure 3-28

Figure 3-28 Adjust these options if you find that your keyboard occasionally repeats characters without your permission.

The repeat delay—the amount of time Windows waits as you hold down a key before repeating that key—is set, by default, a bit long for the tastes of some proficient typists. You can make it shorter by dragging the slider to the right. On the other hand, if you sometimes find that Windows gives you an unwanted string of repeated characters, you can drag the slider left. You might also then want to reduce the repeat rate.

Increasing productivity with keyboard shortcuts

Like its predecessors, Windows 11 offers so many keyboard shortcuts that learning them all would be a remarkable feat, a bit like memorizing 80 digits of pi. Becoming familiar with a handful (or several handfuls), on the other hand, can definitely improve your productivity without being a burden on your long-term memory.

Table 3-2 presents a selection of everyday shortcuts—the ones that we use most often and would have trouble living without. (These are, of course, in addition to the separate table, earlier in this chapter, of keyboard shortcuts having to do with window management.) Because your own needs probably differ from ours, however, you might want to peruse the truly exhaustive list at

Table 3-2 A short list of general-purpose keyboard shortcuts




Copy selection


Cut selection


Paste Clipboard contents






Open new window (in many apps)




Close current window (in many apps)


Print (in many apps)


Select all


Open Task Manager


Rename (in File Explorer)


Search (File Explorer and most web browsers)


Refresh (File Explorer and most web browsers)


Close current window


Display the properties dialog for the currently selected object

Windows key

Display Start

Windows key+E

Open new File Explorer window

Windows key+I

Open Settings

Windows key+R

Open the Run command

Windows key+X

Open the Quick Link menu

A shortcut for emojis and more

Windows 11 offers an impressive tool for entering characters that aren’t available on a standard keyboard. Press Windows key+. (period) or Windows key+; (semicolon) in any window that accepts text input to open the emoji keyboard. That name, unfortunately, doesn’t even begin to hint at what this versatile input tool can do for you. Yes, it allows you to enter any character from the standards-based emoji library, but it does much more. Choosing one of the characters along the top row changes the input type to the following:

  • Emoji Emojis are arranged by category (smiley faces, food, people, and so on). To change the skin tone of an emoji in the people category, click one of the six colored dots alongside the category heading.

  • GIF Use this tool to search for animated GIFs and insert them into social media posts or presentations.

  • Kaomoji These are combinations of text characters that take on expressive facial characteristics, with one of the most famous being the shruggie: f0105-01.jpg.

  • Symbols This panel is extraordinarily useful when you need to enter unusual forms of punctuation, currency symbols, Latin characters with diacritic marks, and other characters that would otherwise require obscure keyboard shortcuts or the ancient Character Map utility.

  • Clipboard History If you’ve enabled this feature, the 25 most recent items copied to the Clipboard appear here. To open this panel directly, use the keyboard shortcut Windows key+V; you can then scroll through the list and click any item to paste it at the current insertion point.

The emoji library is also accessible via the Touch Keyboard, and we discuss its use later in this chapter (see “Using the Touch Keyboard”).

Using alternative keyboard layouts

Windows 11 offers keyboard support for more than 300 languages. Most of these languages are available as full language packs, and installing a language pack changes the entire Windows user interface—menus, dialogs, and all—to the selected language. But you can also simply install a keyboard layout for another language, without changing the user interface. This might prove handy if you work in an international environment and occasionally need to dash off an email to, say, a Ukrainian-speaking colleague or customer.

To install another keyboard, go to Settings > Time & Language > Language & Region. When you click Add A Language, the entire set of available languages appears, as shown in Figure 3-29, and you can make your choice. When the keyboard is installed, it becomes available through the Input Indicator system icon, which typically lives on the taskbar, adjacent to the clock. Clicking there pops up a menu of available keyboards, along with a Language Preferences command.

Figure 3-29

Figure 3-29 After you install an additional language, you can switch the keyboard layout to support that language.

To remove a language, make it the default, or set options relating to the language, return to Settings > Time & Language > Language & Region, and then click on the language.

Using the Touch Keyboard

As we noted earlier, the Touch Keyboard is available on any device, even one without a touchscreen. (In this configuration, you need to use a mouse to “tap” the virtual keys.) But the Touch Keyboard is most useful, indeed indispensable, on a touchscreen-equipped device, especially one where you’ve temporarily detached the physical keyboard. Use it to enter text or provide other forms of keyboard input in dialogs, web forms, your browser’s address bar, documents, the search box—anywhere you would normally need a physical keyboard to provide input.

To make the Touch Keyboard visible, tap its icon in the system tray. If the icon isn’t visible, go to Settings > Personalization > Taskbar and slide the Touch Keyboard switch to the On position.

Figure 3-30 shows the standard Touch Keyboard layout.

Figure 3-30

Figure 3-30 Use the gear icon in the upper-left corner of the Touch Keyboard to change the layout.

When no physical keyboard is attached, tapping in any location that accepts text input should cause the Touch Keyboard to appear automatically. (To turn this feature on or off, go to Settings > Time & Language > Typing and expand the Touch Keyboard section. There, you can also find options to add key sounds as you type, automatically add a period when you double-tap the spacebar, and capitalize the first word of a new sentence.)

Clicking the gear icon in the upper-left corner allows you to choose an alternative layout. Choose Default if you want to see a virtual keyboard that contains all the characters on a standard 103-key keyboard, including backslashes, square brackets, and the separate row of numbers, among others. To display function keys (F1 through F12), switch to the Traditional layout and tap Fn.

The Small layout shrinks the Default layout to roughly a quarter of its width. You can then drag that keyboard to any location on the screen, which is handy if the larger layout is interfering with your ability to see a complex document such as a form.

Choose the Split layout if you’re working with a tablet-style device and you want to be able to enter text using your left and right thumbs.

On the default layout, you can enter numbers by pressing and holding the respective key on the top row (Q for 1, W for 2, and so on). That technique isn’t productive if you need to do extensive numeric input, of course. In that case, tap the &123 key in the lower-left corner to replace the standard QWERTY layout with one that includes numbers and special characters, as shown in Figure 3-31.

Figure 3-31

Figure 3-31 Tap the abc key in the lower-left corner to switch to the standard QWERTY keys and this alternative view of symbols and numbers.

If the symbol you’re looking for isn’t visible, tap the right arrow key just above Ctrl to display a second layout containing additional symbols.

Unlike their physical counterparts, the Ctrl, Alt, and Windows keys on the Touch Keyboard are “sticky.” Tapping any of those keys causes the key you tapped to change color to indicate it’s selected; its action takes effect when combined with whatever key you type next. Thus, to copy text using the standard Ctrl+C shortcut, tap Ctrl and then tap C. To open File Explorer, tap the Windows key and then tap E. (To open the Start menu when the Touch Keyboard is covering the taskbar, tap the Windows key twice.)

In some respects, the Touch Keyboard is more versatile than its physical counterparts. Entering a typographic symbol like the interrobang (a character consisting of an exclamation point superimposed on a question mark) or an emoji doesn’t require the use of ANSI codes. Instead, you can enter characters directly. To enter an interrobang, for example, click (or press) and hold either the question mark or the exclamation point. Relevant special-character options appear in a panel above the character you clicked. Use the same technique to enter, for example, an accented vowel.

With all these layouts, you can take advantage of Microsoft’s superb text-prediction engine in apps that support it, such as Microsoft Word. As soon as you finish a word (and sometimes before), likely continuations appear in a row at the top of the keyboard. So, for example, to write “Give me a few minutes to get the money,” all you need to type is the first two letters. You can click your way through the rest of the sentence. If you’re sending input to an app that understands emojis, the engine suggests those as well as text continuations.

One additional option that appears when you tap the gear icon is Handwriting, which replaces the keyboard with an input panel where you can enter text. This panel is most useful with devices that support pen input, but you can also use your fingertip to enter text. Windows automatically translates your printing or cursive input into characters for entry at the current insertion point.

If your handwriting is so sloppy that even you have trouble deciphering it, you might be in for a surprise. In the unlikely event that the panel can’t figure out what you meant, you can select from a row of suggestions that appears at the top of the window.

Using voice commands and dictating text

If you’d rather not type, why not talk instead? Position the insertion point in any place where text input is available, and press Windows key+H to turn on voice typing. If the Touch Keyboard is visible, tap the microphone button to begin.

The first time you use this feature, you’re prompted to install device-based speech recognition components. When that installation completes, you see a microphone button that you can click or tap to begin dictating.

You can pause or stop dictation using voice commands like “Pause dictation” or “Stop listening.” In addition to words, you can dictate punctuation symbols and such editing instructions as “delete last ten words” or “new line.”

Beginning with Windows 11 Version 22H2, you can also turn on a feature called Voice Access, which enables you to control every Windows function using your voice. To get started, run the Voice Access app, which downloads the required components and prompts you to set up your microphone. Voice Access adds a bar to the top of the display with a microphone button and a gear icon to adjust settings. To turn the feature on, say “voice access wake up.” To see a list of commands you can use, say “what can I say?”

Voice Access has a rich command set and some surprisingly powerful features. For example, you can ask it to add numbers to the screen identifying every possible object that can be clicked and then say “click 14” instead of trying to describe the button you want to interact with. For people who have difficulty interacting with a physical keyboard or mouse, Voice Access is worth mastering.

Using a pen with Windows 11

On PCs designed to work with a pen, including Microsoft’s line of Surface Pro tablets, a pen can be a powerful input tool. You can use it in place of a mouse, to point and click with more precision than you can get from a fingertip. You can also use it to draw and to input text directly in apps that support it.

To make it easier to access apps that provide pen support, consider adding the Pen menu to the system tray. (You’ll find this setting under Settings > Personalization > Taskbar > System Tray Icons. Tap the Pen icon to open this menu, and then tap the gear icon and choose Edit Pen Menu to see a list of pen-compatible apps that you can pin here.

Options relating to your pen are located at Settings > Bluetooth & Devices > Pen & Windows Ink. In the lower portion of that settings page is a set of options for configuring pen shortcuts. (See Figure 3-32.) These options, which require a pen with a shortcut button, govern what happens when you press that button once, press it twice in quick succession, or press and hold.

Figure 3-32

Figure 3-32 You can train your pen to launch a program, perform a screen capture, or open the Pen menu when you use one of its shortcut buttons.

Within the three sets of dropdowns are options to launch programs, capture screens, and more.