Office Watch reader Steve G is having a problem in Word. The F9 key is starting Cortana instead of updating fields in a Word document. He suspects a buggy patch of Windows or Office.
F9 is the most common problem but redirecting to different commands. That’s probably because F9 is a most common Office function key. It’s the Recalculation button in Excel, Send/Receive in Outlook and Update Fields in Word.
We don’t blame Steve for thinking Microsoft patches are at fault. He’s not the first person to have this is, or similar, problem and suspect buggy patches. Microsoft’s poor quality updates and slow public admission of bugs makes it hard for their customers.
Office Watch went looking for this problem and found a history of similar complaints over the years with different versions of Windows and Office.
What’s stopping F9 or Fn?
All the online reports have one thing in common, the problem is NOT caused by either Office or Windows.
Recent Office/Windows updates have not resulted in a lot of F9 bug complaints appearing online, which is what you’d expect. Microsoft won’t quickly admit to patch bugs but, if the patch was to blame, various online forums would ‘light up’ with complaints.
The past F9 etc troubles usually include suspecting a Windows / Office bug … but it turned out to be the hardware.
In one case it was a BIOS setting for the Function keys which reset the Fn keys on startup. Another person discovered the ‘Alt Fn’ was locked on, pressing F9 was actually sending Alt+F9 or some other unexpected combination. Some keyboards have a Function/Fn shift which could be locked on without your knowledge.
Another possibility is some utility/ software that is hijacking the F keys?
Test your keyboard and keys
You can test your keyboard and the F keys using a key tester site or utility.
A traditional tester lets you type keys or key combinations to see the key or key code that Windows is detecting.
The sites are quick way to check a keyboard but has limitations. The key you press goes through many layers of Windows and browser software before being ‘seen’ by the site.
Some free software utilities have nerdy features not available on the web sites. Keyboard Test Utility, among several, will display the hardware key scan code (list) which is the number value sent by the keyboard for each keystroke. That can help with more complex problems or hardware issues.
Update – Steve solves the problem
The reader who inspired this article found a solution using a keyboard tester.
“It turned out that Function Lock was enabled, which is done by pressing Fn+Esc. I have no recollection of ever pressing this improbable combination – I didn’t even know you could!
The problem is exacerbated by the absence of status indication. This particular laptop keyboard has an LED to indicate that Caps Lock is enabled, but there are no lights for NumLock or Function Lock.
The keyboard tester application was very helpful in tracking down the problem.“
If F9 isn’t working or hard to use, try this workaround
Many laptop users avoid the Function keys because they aren’t directly available on the keyboard. Instead you need to press the Fn key and another key … the Function labels aren’t easy to see.
Here’s the Function keys on a Lenovo laptop like the one we’re using to type this article. Those dark red F labels might seem clear but they are small and fade into the black background.
The workaround is to put the wanted functions on the ribbon instead. Here we’ve added some Field Code functions onto the Word ribbon because it’s easier than accessing the F9 keys (and remembering the shortcuts!).
We’re not the only one to get confused between the Word field code shortcuts. Does Alt + F9 add a field code or view field codes? (it’s the latter)
Adding the buttons to the ribbon is easy. We’ve added these to the end of the Developer ribbon but they can be anywhere.
View Field Codes: toggles fields between visible codes and the current result – Alt + F9
Update: refreshes/recalcs all the fields in the document – F9
Unlink Fields: converts a field code into text.
Tip: View Field Codes is necessary before finding or replacing text inside a field code e.g. hyperlinks.