Do you know all about Select All?

In this post, I will discuss Ctrl A, the humble shortcut which almost everyone uses in the context of Word documents but nowhere else.

The idea is simple. Ctrl A selects all the things in the current context.
Confused? Read on …

Learn all about select all - ctrl A

Select Entire Document in Word

This is probably the usage which everyone knows about. Press Ctrl A to select the entire document. Very nice.

But ever wondered when you would you want to select the entire document? What is it that you are trying to achieve?

If you wanted to copy the entire document and paste it elsewhere, a better way would be Save As. It is very unlikely that you want to apply some common formatting to the entire document.

One of the practical reason why you need to do use select Ctrl A is to update page numbers, table of contents and various other fields. It is a good idea to do so before sending or printing any document.


Select a block of data

This is obvious. But not many people use it. Click inside the block of data and press Ctrl A. Excel will select the entire block.

Many of us never even attempt this shortcut in Excel because during the older days, this shortcut used to select the entire sheet. Recent versions of Excel have become smarter and only the current block is selected.

The selection looks at the current cell and checks all the immediate surrounding cells. If any of these is filled, then it does the same check for the next cell and so on.

To give you an idea of how this works, see the following selection. The cursor was in cell A1 when CTRL A was pressed.


Usually, we want to select a tabular block of data. You may end up selecting unwanted data using this shortcut. Here is how.

Many reports containing data have a title for the report, which is touching the actual data. Similarly, at the end of tabular data, there will be a grand total row which is also touching the data. In this case, CTRL A will include these rows and create problems for you.

Best practice: Raw data should be completely free of distractions on all four sides to ensure proper selection.

Select Ranges during formula entry

The same concept of Ctrl A works during formula entry range selection also. Due to some psychological compartmentalization, I have seen people who use Ctrl A otherwise – just don’t think about it while editing formulas. Strange, but true.

Select a table

Excel tables are very important for ensuring accuracy of dependents and simplifying Excel related work.

If your cursor is in the data area, Ctrl A selects the entire data area. Pressing Ctrl A again will select the entire table including the header. Pressing Ctrl A again will select the entire sheet.

Select entire sheet

If the current cell is empty and surrounding cells are also empty, then CTRL A selects the entire sheet. If you are in a block of data, it will select the block and then second time the entire sheet.

Generally, performing any operation using the entire sheet is not a good idea. It may sound like a logical thing to do in many cases. But it is inherently dangerous. Why? Because it affects all the cells in the sheet – some of which you may not even know about or remember. There are bound to be some undesirable side effects – which you may not even notice immediately.

Best Practice: Unless there is no other way, do not perform any operation on the entire sheet. Usually, there is a better and faster approach available.

Importance of not disturbing the active cell

One subtle benefit of Ctrl A is that the Active Cell (editable cell) in Excel is not disturbed. This is useful in cases where you have many errors to handle in bulk.

Click in a cell containing an error which is to be corrected. Press Ctrl A twice. (Thrice if you are inside a table).

Now the entire sheet is selected and the correction menu icon moves to the top left cell. This way you can handle errors globally.

Select all images / objects

Often, when we copy paste from a web page, many images and icons also appear in Excel. We have to remove these one by one… which is a time consuming process.

Instead, use this method: Click on one of the images and then press Ctrl A

Excel understands that the context is now changed to the image. So Ctrl A will not work on cells, it will select all images. Miraculous – for those of you who have spent your precious life on this mundane activity, but logical and intuitive – if you think a little about it!

This works in Word as well.

Select Find Results

A very useful one. You do find all in Excel and lots of results appear below. You want to apply some formatting or perform some common operation to all the found cells. Just press Ctrl A in the search results. (Ctrl Click also works if you want to omit some search results)

If found results are across sheets, it selects cells only from the current sheet.

Select Pivot Table

Ctrl A works inside pivot tables also. This is useful to create copies of the Pivot Table and then modify the layout to create a dashboard.

In case Ctrl A based copy paste does not work, there is a formal option called Select Entire Pivot Table in the ribbon – Options (or Analyze) tab – Select – Entire Table.


Select all items on the slide

This is obvious. But if you want to exclude any item, you can also Ctrl Click. Another useful way of selecting all items on the slide is to start dragging the mouse in an empty area and create a selection rectangle. Only objects which are completely within the rectangle will be selected.

For example, here is how to select only the arrows…


Select all animation items

This is a useful one. Click in the animation pane – on any animation item and then press Ctrl A. All animation entries are selected. This is useful when you want to make any global change, e.g., all should be Start With Previous.

Select all slides

In slide sorter view, Ctrl A selects all slides – useful for making changes to design template, background, etc.  especially when there are multiple masters involved.

Also useful for applying a fixed timing for all slides while creating a self-running presentation.

Select all text in a textbox

This is an obvious one.

Another method to select all text in a textbox is to press F2 while the entire textbox is selected. This selects the entire text so that you can overwrite the selection with new text.

Select all items in a SmartArt

This is usually not required because global changes to SmartArt shapes are best done using the ribbon options. However, it does work. You may want to change some parameter – e.g, apply the same hyperlink for all objects in SmartArt…

Select all items in a SmartArt

Selection Pane allows all objects to be selected using Ctrl A as well. This is useful when you want to select all except a few in a complex slide. Ctrl Click works to remove items from selection.


Everything which works in Word, works here as well. But in addition, here are some additional items.

Ctrl A in any tabular view in Outlook selects all items – which can then be pasted to Excel (or any other application) for further use.

Ctrl A also works in the recipient boxes (To, CC, BCC).

Moral of the story, press Ctrl A when you want to select everything in a given context!

Do you know any other uses of Ctrl A?

Please post as comments here.

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