Fill forms quickly with the Tab key

Fill forms quickly with the Tab key
Mac Tip #331, 26 March 2008

Sometimes you must fill in a form on a web page. Perhaps you carefully click in the first field and type your information, then click in the next one and type the next entry.

Then perhaps you have to click on and scroll a drop-down menu, such as when you must choose New Zealand from a list of countries.

Click, type, click, scroll, click, type. It’s all just endless clicking. But it doesn’t need to be.

Try the Tab key

Try the Tab key at the top left of your keyboard.

Tab normally moves the cursor from one form field to another, while Shift Tab moves it back in reverse order.

By using the Tab key you should be able to click in the first field and type, then press the Tab key, type again, and so on. If you make a mistake and need to go back to a previous field, press Shift Tab.


Visit my contact form to try out the Tab key.

The form is live and will send emails to my address so don’t press Send unless you’re really trying to contact me.

Deal with drop-downs

Unlike the other form fields, the Subject in my test form is a drop-down. A drop-down is often used for State or Country in many forms.

You still don’t need to take your hands off the keyboard though. When you press Tab from the Email field in my test form the drop-down will be selected. Now either press a letter key (in this particular form try Q or S) or press the down arrow on the keyboard.

When I need to select New Zealand from a list of countries I press the letter N. That brings me to the first country that starts with N — often Namibia. Then I press the down arrow a few times to work down through other countries that start with N.

Once the correct item in the drop-down list is highlighted, press Return or Enter to confirm your choice.

A trick for fast typists

If you are trying to select a known word or phrase such as New Zealand from a drop-down, try typing not just the first letter, but the first few. But you need to be quick, or else you may end up selecting a word beginning with the last letter you typed.

I can usually manage to reach New Caledonia in a list of countries by typing new, though I have yet to be fast enough to type new z for New Zealand.

Next time you have to fill in a form, try the Tab key for extra speed and ease of use. But if you often fill in forms, such as user names and passwords, then there’s an even better way to make life easier. I’ll explain in a future tip.

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  2. Galen said:

    Well thank you – this has bugged me for months and I never considered Googling it until today!

  3. Miraz Jordan said:

    Thanks so much for both your comments. That’s extremely useful to know.

    I hadn’t tested it out on various browsers, but I see the Firefox problem when I test it on Flock. Oddly enough, even the F7 switch doesn’t actually drop-down the options in Flock the way it does with OmniWeb, and Safari.

    Opera doesn’t skip the drop-down but again the arrow key cycles through the options, rather than dropping down the list.

    I really appreciate this extra insight.



  4. Galen said:

    The tab to drop down thing doesn’t seem to work in Firefox for me – it seems to skip the drop down. Any idea why?

    Safari works.

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