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Selecting Text: Doing the Finger Dance

You know how sometimes you get used to doing something weird and then are surprised when someone points out how weird it is? That happened today when someone commented on how strange InDesign’s text-selection system is… you know, how you can use keyboard shortcuts, along with the Shift key, to select text in a story.

If you’ve never quite grokked how to do this with InDesign, it’s worth reading over this excerpt from Real World InDesign, by Olav Martin Kvern and me:

The Keyboard Dance. Selecting text in InDesign, whether you’re in a story window or a document window, is in most ways the same as any other program. There is one difference, however, which drives us crazy. When you select text using keyboard shortcuts, InDesign remembers where the cursor was when you started, but it only remembers as long as you hold the modifier keys down. This is a subtle thing, and much more difficult to explain than to show.

Here’s an example. You place the text cursor at the beginning of this paragraph and then Command-Shift-Down Arrow/Ctrl-Shift-Down Arrow to select the whole paragraph. Suddenly, you realize that you don’t want to select the last character (the paragraph return character), so you press Shift-Left Arrow to deselect it.

What happens next depends on whether or not you raised your hand from the keyboard. If you keep the Shift key down between the two shortcuts, InDesign will deselect the last character (which is what you want). If you let go of the keyboard before pressing Shift-Left Arrow, then InDesign sees this as a whole new selection and adds one character to the left of the paragraph (the last character in the previous paragraph) to your selection (which is never what you want).

At that point, getting the selection you want requires you to extend the selection to the right (perhaps by pressing Shift-Right Arrow) and then deselect the characters (Shift-Left Arrow, twice). This what we call doing they keyboard dance. It’s so bad that we sometimes take our fingers off the keyboard and use the mouse.

While InDesign’s finger-dance method gives you a bit more control over exactly what is going to be selected next, there is no doubt that it will drive you bonkers if you don’t pay attention.

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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10 Comments on “Selecting Text: Doing the Finger Dance

  1. I never knew that holding down the key changes how it selects or deselects. It drives me nuts when it selects a new character on the other end rather than deselecting a character I want. Thanks for the tip!

  2. I just select the text with the mouse, but I start from the bottom up, this avoids the paragraph return. I can then switch to the keys to fine tune the selection if I wish.

    But I didn’t know about the finger dance simply because I’ve never experienced that issue? Weird.

  3. so im using CS4 in SnowLeopard and cant get my cursor (new, wireless mouse) to select a couple of paragraphs at the bottom of my doc whose styles i want to copy and paste. ?weirdorwhat? i scrolled up and was able to select stuff fine.

  4. This is actually one of those eye-openers for me… and it makes selection via cursor-keys actually (much more) useful.

    I didn’t really understand it just reading the text, though. In case someone else feels the same, it works like this:
    When you release the shift-key and then press it again, your next cursor-key-press will determine, where the selection occurs. i.e. press left-key and the selection will extend to the left (at the beginning of the block) and if you press right-key it will extend to the right. All of this applies until you let go of and press the shift-key again, basically letting you modify your selection as often as you like, at whichever end you like.

    Mh. I don’t know if this makes any of it clearer or just more confusing. Blame it on my bad english in the latter case. ;)

    Anyway, you probably need to play with it a few seconds to really figure it out. And in my case, finger-dance or not, it will actually make me use the mouse -less- for selections.

  5. I am looking for a way to make a selection of text at one point in a text box, all the way to the bottom of the text including text that is hidden or overflowing (not yet styled). Is there a way to select all the text from one point forward without selecting the stuff before it? A dance for that??


  6. You can even add “Alt/Option” to the combination to select or deselect word by word in accordance with the left or right arrow.

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