Why Using Control+F May Be the Most Important Computing Skill

The response to our story about how few people know how to find words in documents has touched a nerve. There have been basically three reactions: 1) Whoa! That's crazy! 2) No one knows keyboard shortcuts and it's silly of you to expect that they do. 3) Wow, I did not know about this shortcut and it is awesome. All of which make sense in their own way.

Those, like the Wall Street Journal's Chris Shea, who think I live in a web worker bubble are correct. But not just about me. We *all* live in our own web skill bubbles. Browsing is an inherently private phenomenon and so tips and tricks are not so easily shared. That, in fact, is part of the problem. I've had the opportunity to watch print designers from different publications share a room and I've noticed that they all know slightly different sets of shortcuts for Adobe InDesign. When it comes to intermediate to advanced level navigation, everyone develops his or her own style.

But that doesn't mean that some styles aren't better than others. It's like driving or videogames -- we all have our own tics, but some people are legitimately better drivers than other people (See: NASCAR guys I googled).

And just as, say, accelerating out of turns might be a sign of a good driver, using Control+F (or equivalent) is a sign of a good searcher. It's not just that you know the skill, but what the skill says about your approach to search.

Russell's research backs me up on this. "[P]eople who DO know the Control-F trick are, on average, about 12% faster in all of their search behaviors," Russell told me. "That doesn't sound like much, but it's one of the biggest improvements we've *ever* seen. It's a huge improvement over people who don't know this small trick."

In a blog post, Russell called Control+F, "the single most important thing you can teach someone about search." And because I think search is the single most important function of our networked computers today (word processing being a close second), Control+F is the most important computing skill.

To go one step further: having Find in your cognitive toolkit allows you to think differently about search. When you know you can search instantly through a lot of text within a document, what you Google changes as much as how you search. In that way, using Control+F (or Find in the menu or Command+F on a Mac) is a generative skill in a way that even copy and paste are not.

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