The Secret of the Mysterious Buttons

At the bottom of Word's vertical scroll bar sit three esoteric buttons: one with a picture of two up arrows on it, one with a picture of two down arrows on it, and one in-between them with a picture on it that looks a little like a planet.

Mysterious buttons

These buttons have existed since at least Word 97, yet most people never notice them.

What do these mysterious buttons do?

They're navigation controls. By default, the up arrow and down arrow buttons let you quickly go to the previous or next page of your document, respectively.

The behavior of the arrows can be modified by clicking the little circle button between them. A flyout menu appears which allows you to choose another way to navigate the document.

For instance, you could choose "Browse by Comment" to make the arrows take you between previous and next comments in the document. Or "Browse by Table" will empower the arrows to jump you between tables. You can also choose to navigate between footnotes, endnotes, graphics, sections, edits, and more.

Change the behavior of the navigation arrows

There's one other cool feature built in to these controls. Perform a find in your document (by pressing CTRL+F, or by choosing Find on the Edit menu.)

Now you can close the Find dialog and use the arrows to navigate you between previous and next search results within your document. Notice that the arrows "light up" to show that they're loaded with a search term.

In certain versions, you might even notice the Find dialog box animate up from these controls as it appears, trying to give you a clue that the two features are somehow related. As you close the Find dialog box, you might notice it "minimizing" down into the buttons for the same reason.

Now you know the hidden secret of the mysterious buttons. Franklin W. Dixon would be so proud!

Comments (42)

  1. Marge Donaldson says:

    Sounds cool. But why do I have to learn about the Secret of the Mysterious Buttons on a blog? UI’s shouldn’t have secrets, they should be obvious.

  2. Kieren Johnstone says:

    Marge – you don’t.  It’s in the help file and most references books for Word.

  3. Troy Hepfner says:

    I never noticed even these buttons before!  I had to open my copy of Word 2000 to verify that they were really there.

    What can Office 2007 do with these buttons to help users find them better?

    By the way, I love the reference to Franklin W. Dixon at the end!  I’m not the only Dixon fan!  Woohoo!!

  4. Adam Young says:

    I really hate these controls; I noticed them a few years ago, and even though I know what they’re for I rarely use them. They’re too… fiddly.

    I can’t really explain more than that. They just feel wrong. One minute I may need to search by one filter, then I might need to change it to another, and it’s just too fiddly to do – the controls are too small, the icons aren’t intuitive so it’s not easy to tell which "mode" you’re in at a glance.

  5. Rijk says:

    I knew about the pageup/down function, but I’ve never used that. I mostly use the keyboard for moving around, focusing these tiny arrows isn’t fun. I never noticed the

    I’d rather see ‘normal’ shortcuts in Word:

    F3 for ‘Find next’, Shift+F3 for ‘Find pevious’. I use that in other apps, and always have to wrestle with the complicated ‘Find’ dialog in Word. For starters, I have to press ‘Find next’ to find the *first* match. Not intuitive for me… And as the dialog is rather big and can’t be resized, I’d rather close it and use F3 to find the following matches.

  6. pli says:

    I agree with Marge and the other posters.  Isn’t Office 2007 supposed to be the version that demystifies the UI for the masses, and helps people uncover hiterto undiscoverable features?

    I used the up and down arrow when they were simple Prev and Next Page buttons (probably back in Word 6).  When you added the little bubble in between and started complicating a simple concept, I stopped using them.  It got over my head.

    It’s as if you try to add more functionality to Excel’s worksheet-switching buttons (lower left corner of the screen).  Can you imagine if you add a little bubble icon in the middle there, and allow people to switch the next column, next 10 columns, next page, next cell with formula, etc.?  Or allowing people to typing in the name of a worksheet they’re looking for?  Could be marginally useful, but it just feels complicated.

    My two cents.

  7. Joe says:

    Are you going to draw new 32-bit icons for the buttons on that menu?  All combined, they don’t appear to use more than 8 colors total, and the visual appearance is rather jarring when compared to the nice looking icons on the ribbon

  8. Bil Simser says:

    Talk about mysterious. I’ve used Word every day for the past 10 years and never noticed these crazy things. Although I do agree they’re fiddly. Difficult to get a mouse over and click on without clicking on something else. That’s what you get with teeny little icons. It’s like the Quick Launch. Great idea, but half the time I launch something other than what I intended to because of the size of the icon.

  9. Michael says:

    I knew what these buttons did, but I never noticed the arrows light up after performing a Find. Way too subtle!

  10. Aaron says:

    I knew the buttons were there… I just never cared what they did, because I’ve always done things my own way… but now that I know what they’re for, this makes things a little easier on me.

    In 15 years of working on computers, I’ve never once had an issue with clicking on a scroll-bar’s down arrow… and I can’t imagine having a hard time on these controls. I don’t know if it’s just whining or what but I do know people have been moaning a lot about the find, find next, find previous options… you point out that an easy way exists to accomplish it, and yet people still complain. Go figure.

    As for UI’s being obvious… what is obvious to a person depends on need for a function and interest in exploring what is available. I knew the buttons exist because I tend to observe things…. I just ignored them, because they didn’t appear to do anything I’d need to use. Page Up and Page Down are easier on a keyboard for me… knowing now that they can do other things, I will put them to use.

  11. Hmpfff says:

    Wow! Insanely cool!

    How do I assign the Back/Forward buttons on the Microsoft keyboard to browse to next (method,tab..) in Visual Studio? Oh right. YOU CAN’T. Some clever engineer figured they shall only work in IE.

    I bet you $100 they can’t be assigned to browse to next "footnote" or whatever in Word either.

  12. Comrade Ghorkov says:

    16-color icons in a full-color office suite? They were jarring in Office 2003, I shudder to think of their impact in Office 2007.

    It’s only a trivial task to change the icons.

  13. Leo Petr says:

    IMHO, these do not belong in the scrollbar. They should be in something like a Search tab in the ribbon, with the options being a gallery with labeled Next and Previous buttons next to it.

  14. Jeff says:

    Agreed with Bil Simser, Adam, and Rijk.  The icons are too tiny.

    How many people really  use this feature daily?  Seems like a good candidate for removal.   Icons that are hard to click, nonstandard UI, this one should go the way of the office assistant.

  15. Well, I certainly haven’t been a fan of these buttons.  I like the idea of page up/page down, but as for next table/previous table or next paragraph/previous paragraph well, the idea just didn’t seem to translate for me.  What usually happens?  I use find to find something, it doesn’t display enough context for my purposes and I click the next hit button thinking it’s the next page button and wind up momentarily confused (and a little annoyed).

    Frankly, I’d prefer DVD player symbols (e.g. track skip forward/back) that only operated on pages and a find as you type functionality like Firefox.

  16. Jeff says:

    Speaking of scrolling, when is this postage-stamp sized textbox for writing "what you think" going to get bigger?  One sentence takes up the entire box!

  17. barrkel says:

    I’ve been using Word since Word For Windows 6.0.

    I’ve noticed these icons from Word 97, when a big fat popup appeared when I first tried to do a Find in that version. For Word versions after this, the Find dialog "restored" and "minimized" to the miniscule little icon.

    Even though I’ve been aware of it, Find and Relpace have both always been easier to to access through Ctrl+F and Ctrl+H. Paging is easier with Page Up and Page Down. Other scrolling is easier with the middle mouse button (on a three-button mouse, or click the wheel on a mouse with a wheel).

  18. Rob Meek says:

    As an IT Trainer I have long known about these buttons. Seems to me one of the biggest problems is that you have to remember the last setting in order to know what you will go forward or back to. Showing this setting as an option in the new customisable status bar may be a solution.

    Secondly, the blue colour when set to other than page up/down is not sufficiently noticeable. The same problem afflicts the AutoFilter arrows in Excel.

    I wonder what the usability stats show about how many people actually browse by table, bookmark etc? I have yet to imagine a need to do this and I write 300 page training course manuals – containing many tables, figures – with Word!

  19. steveg says:

    I used those things a few times when they first turned up then shrugged my shoulders and haven’t touched them since — there are easier ways to do the same thing (ctrl+pgup, ctrl+pgdn etc).

    I’d pay extra for a version of office that scrolled the other way when Shift-clicking a scrollbar (as in RiscOS).

  20. jensenh says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    I totally agree that they’re not very discoverable, and there are other ways to do the similar functionality.

    At the same time, they add very nearly zero complexity (notice how few people had even noticed them) and some expert users vocally defend them as crucial, so we left them in.

    Obviously, this was not an area in which we spent design resources (the interaction is unchanged for at least the last 10 years.)  It’s more of an affordance for experts which succeeds in not adding complexity because of how esoteric it is.

    Is it perfect UI?  Definitely not.  But in the real world of a word processor with decades of use, sometimes you have to make trade-offs.

    The discoverable version of this functionality is the "Go To" command on the Home tab of Word 2007, by the way. 🙂

  21. Mark Sowul says:

    To Hmpff: How do I assign the Back/Forward buttons on the Microsoft keyboard to browse to next (method,tab..) in Visual Studio?

    Simple.  I no longer have my Natural Keyboard Pro, having replaced it with a Logitech KB/Mouse set (their software, btw, sucks more than I can ever describe in words, but MS decided their mouse would have smooth-scrolling mouse wheels with no detents, which totally castrates them), but I definitely assigned back/forward to next/prev edit location.  I am almost certain you can just assign them like any other key.

  22. I was really surprised to see so many negative comments on the Browse arrows. I routinely use these for Find Next/Find Previous and don’t find it that onerous to change the browse object back to Page when needed. Where they are especially useful, though, is for browsing by section or heading when I’m checking a document for consistency.

    Another really useful aspect is that the Browse Next and Browse Previous actions do not appear in the Undo/Redo list, so it is possible to perform quite complex editing or formatting operations on one graphic or field, click Browse Next, and F4 to repeat it on the next; sometimes this is the most efficient way to change a lot of similar objects at once.

    I would strongly object to having these arrows removed or even moved, as others have suggested, but I agree that making them more discoverable would be helpful, and perhaps using a larger variety of colors to indicate the current browse object would be possible.

  23. Helen says:

    I’ve known about the buttons for quite a while now, but I find them inconvenient and uncomfortable to use.

    First of all, they are tiny. Secondly, they are far away from all the other toolbars and buttons, so they are far from where my mouse pointer is likely to be. Even just getting the mouse to them takes time. I rarely use the scrollbar’s down button, for the same reason – I’d rather drag the scrollbar (it’s often larger than the button) or use the mouse wheel. (In fact the down button on the scrollbar is even more useless, because it is miles away from the up button. Dragging the scrollbar at least allows me to navigate in both directions.)

    I agree with Leo – these buttons should be in a Search tab or somewhere like that.

  24. Francis says:

    The fly-out Select Browse Object menu (ALT+CTRL+HOME) should become more keyboard accessible.

    You could add letter key selection to the current arrow keys. This would make the menu more consistent with the Ribbon. At the moment, to switch from browse by Page to Field, the user has to press ALT+CTRL+HOME followed by the left arrow key five (5) times. Pressing ALT+CTRL+HOME, F would be an improvement.

    Also, the fly-out menu omits a few browseable features, such as ‘Browse by Spelling Error’ (available via the keystroke ALT+F7.) There is also no PrevMisspelling complement to the NextMisspelling command.

  25. Kingsley says:

    Why wouldn’t the office apps have a readily accessible search box like every other piece of software out there?

  26. Jeff says:

    Jensen made the textarea box bigger – thanks!

    Thanks also to Adam for the resizable textarea link.

    Completely unrelated: In Office 12, has there been any improvement to the find/replace dialog?  Specifically, is there a way to make it appear as a toolbar or somehow part of the ribbon?  

    The existing popup-find/replace gets in the way of your content …

  27. Guess Who says:

    I agree. I’ve seen that since I got my first copy of Office. I only learned what they did when I was bored one day and decided to go hunting through the 2003 Interface (super-slow day when you go hunting for something new and exciting in an office program), I noticed them and decided to find out what they did. I found out, but they are way to fiddly. I never use them and I would like to see a percentage upon how often they are used, if at all.


  28. Guess Who says:

    Oopps :O

    Forgot to say that I wish they would go away.

    There, my full two cents

  29. > Is it perfect UI?  Definitely not.  But in the

    > real world of a word processor with decades of

    > use, sometimes you have to make trade-offs.

    I think a wise trade-off would be to tell the power-user extreme minority to get lost.  Jensen, you’ve repeatedly mentioned how precious screen space is; these controls take up some of it; they add complexity, they have confusing modal behavior and serve as distractors for the scroll arrows.  They harm (very slightly) the vast majority of your users and they benefit (very slightly) a vocal few.  Imnsho, Microsoft tends to make UI decisions like this – more features better – and I think your products suffer because of that.

  30. Troy Hepfner says:

    > Completely unrelated: In Office 12, has

    > there been any improvement to the

    > find/replace dialog?  Specifically, is

    > there a way to make it appear as a

    > toolbar or somehow part of the ribbon?  

    > The existing popup-find/replace gets in

    > the way of your content …

    I agree with you, Jeff.  IMHO, this is the most annoying feature in Word, especially since the Find dialog jumps around on the screen as you use it.  I hate that!  It makes it impossible to click Find Next in quick succession, and I sometimes end up clicking something I didn’t want to click.

    I hope this is being addressed in Office 2007.  Putting it into the ribbon would be good.  Or make it dockable.  Or at the very least, add an option to turn off the auto-move.  If I want to move it, I’ll do it myself.

    Thanks for the great blog, and for listening to our comments!

  31. Mario Goebbels says:

    That thing needs new icons, because they’re from Office 97, too.

  32. Guido says:

    Yes, please, change the icons or remove it (the latter probably isn’t feasible, but changing icons seems like a trivial task). Otherwise Office 2007 will end up looking like Windows XP with all those old Windows 95 icons here and there that make everything look unfinished.

    A find field within the interface (e.g. on the ribbon) is a logical must on these apps, particularly on one in which you browse within documents often (Word). We don’t need a big dialog with a lot of options just to scrolling to a certain *word*, do we?

  33. That was a good reminder for me.  The nice thing about using these buttons for finding text is that it allows you to remain in your document without having to switch back and forth between the Find dialog box and your content – it’s one click instead of three per find.

  34. kivi says:

    As a trainer I need to know all kinds of small buttons but these little creatures have one strange/frustrating/etc. feature: As the shortcut key ctrl+pgup/down is connected to the function of these buttons also the function of the supposedly known key combination can change without warning.

    Say I’m used to browsing full pages with ctrl+pgdown. If I then one day make a search (with ctrl+F) and start browsing, my ctrl+pgdown will repeat the find as described above…

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