Using menus, buttons, bars, and boxes


Menus, buttons, scroll bars, and check boxes are examples of controls that you operate with your mouse or keyboard. These controls allow you to select commands, change settings, or work with windows. This section describes how to recognize and use controls that you'll encounter frequently while using Windows.

Using menus

Most programs contain dozens or even hundreds of commands (actions) that you use to work the program. Many of these commands are organized under menus. Like a restaurant menu, a program menu shows you a list of choices. To keep the screen uncluttered, menus are hidden until you click their titles in the menu bar, located just underneath the title bar.

To choose one of the commands listed in a menu, click it. Sometimes a dialog box appears, in which you can select further options. If a command is unavailable and cannot be clicked, it is shown in gray.

Some menu items are not commands at all. Instead, they open other menus. In the following picture, pointing to "New" opens a submenu.

Picture of a menu and submenu
Some menu commands open submenus

If you don't see the command you want, try looking at another menu. Move your mouse pointer along the menu bar and its menus open automatically; you don't need to click the menu bar again. To close a menu without selecting any commands, click the menu bar or any other part of the window.

Recognizing menus isn't always easy, because not all menu controls look alike or even appear on a menu bar. So how can you spot them? When you see an arrow next to a word or picture, you're probably looking at a menu control. Here are some examples:

Picture of menu controls in Windows
Examples of menu controls

Tips

  • If a keyboard shortcut is available for a command, it is shown next to the command.

  • You can operate menus using your keyboard instead of your mouse. See Using your keyboard.

Using scroll bars

When a document, webpage, or picture exceeds the size of its window, scroll bars appear to allow you to see the information that is currently out of view. The following picture shows the parts of a scroll bar.

Picture of horizontal and vertical scroll bars
Horizontal and vertical scroll bars

To use a scroll bar:

  • Click the up or down scroll arrows to scroll the window's contents up or down in small steps. Hold down the mouse button to scroll continuously.

  • Click an empty area of a scroll bar above or below the scroll box to scroll up or down one page.

  • Drag a scroll box up, down, left, or right to scroll the window in that direction.

Tip

  • If your mouse has a scroll wheel, you can use it to scroll through documents and webpages. To scroll down, roll the wheel backward (toward you). To scroll up, roll the wheel forward (away from you).

Using command buttons

A command button performs a command (makes something happen) when you click it. You'll most often see them in dialog boxes, which are small windows that contain options for completing a task. For example, if you close a Paint picture without saving it first, you might see a dialog box like this.

Picture of a Paint dialog box
Dialog box with three buttons

To close the picture, you must first click either the Save or Don't Save button. Clicking Save saves the picture and any changes you've made, and clicking Don't Save deletes the picture and discards any changes you've made. Clicking Cancel dismisses the dialog box and returns you to the program.

Tip

  • Pressing Enter does the same thing as clicking a command button that is selected (outlined).

Outside of dialog boxes, command buttons vary in appearance, so it's sometimes difficult to know what's a button and what isn't. For example, command buttons often appear as small icons (pictures) without any text or rectangular frame.

The most reliable way to determine if something is a command button is to rest your pointer on it. If it "lights up" and becomes framed with a rectangle, you've discovered a button. Most buttons will also display some text about their function when you point to them.

If a button changes into two parts when you point to it, you've discovered a split button. Clicking the main part of the button performs a command, whereas clicking the arrow opens a menu with more options.

Picture of split buttons
Split buttons change into two parts when you point to them

Using option buttons

Option buttons allow you to make one choice among two or more options. They frequently appear in dialog boxes. The following picture shows two option buttons. The "Color" option is selected.

Picture of option buttons
Clicking a button selects that option

To select an option, click one of the buttons. Only one option can be selected.

Using check boxes

Check boxes allow you to select one or more independent options. Unlike option buttons, which restrict you to one choice, check boxes allow you to choose multiple options at the same time.

Picture of check boxes with the mouse pointer on an empty check box
Click an empty check box to select that option

To use check boxes:

  • Click an empty square to select or "turn on" that option. A check mark will appear in the square, indicating that the option is selected.

  • To turn off an option, clear (remove) its check mark by clicking it.

  • Options that currently can't be selected or cleared are shown in gray.

Using sliders

A slider lets you adjust a setting along a range of values. It looks like this.

Picture of a slider
Moving the slider changes the pointer speed

A slider along the bar shows the currently selected value. In the example shown above, the slider is positioned midway between Slow and Fast, indicating a medium pointer speed.

To use a slider, drag the slider toward the value that you want.

Using text boxes

A text box allows you to type information, such as a search term or password. The following picture shows a dialog box containing a text box. We've entered "bear" into the text box.

Picture of a text box
Example of a text box in a dialog box

A blinking vertical line called the cursor indicates where text that you type will appear. In the example, you can see the cursor after the "r" in "bear." You can easily move the cursor by clicking the new position. For example, to add a word before "bear," you would first move the cursor by clicking before the "b."

If you don't see a cursor in the text box, it means the text box isn't ready for your input. Click the box first, and then start typing.

Text boxes that require you to enter a password will usually hide your password as you type it, in case someone else is looking at your screen.

Picture of a password in a text box
Text boxes for passwords usually hide the password

Using drop-down lists

Drop-down lists are similar to menus. Instead of clicking a command, though, you choose an option. When closed, a drop-down list shows only the currently selected option. The other available options are hidden until you click the control, as shown below.

Picture of a drop-down list
A drop-down list shown closed (left), and open (right)

To open a drop-down list, click it. To choose an option from the list, click the option.

Using list boxes

A list box displays a list of options that you can choose from. Unlike a drop-down list, some or all of the options are visible without having to open the list.

Picture of a list box
List box

To choose an option from the list, click it. If the option you want isn't visible, use the scroll bar to scroll the list up or down. If the list box has a text box above it, you can type the name or value of the option instead.

Using tabs

In some dialog boxes, options are divided into two or more tabs. Only one tab, or set of options, can be viewed at a time.

Picture of tabs
Tabs

The currently selected tab appears in front of the other tabs. To switch to a different tab, click the tab.