A Brief Introduction to Microsoft Narrator


Screen fatigue is real. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that even those who have perfect eyesight sometimes experience headaches and even body aches from sitting in front of our screens too long working on things we usually would do in person.

A possible solution for some is use of a screen reader. Many users do not want to install any third-party options. For those individuals, Microsoft Narrator is an option.

What is Narrator?

Microsoft Narrator is the built-in screen reader for Windows. It is a free resource that is continuously under development by Microsoft.

Why Don’t More People use Narrator?

Although Narrator is an excellent tool to have in your toolbox, it is not as powerful as a program like JAWS or even NVDA. Additionally, Narrator is developed to work with Microsoft products, so it doesn’t have as much functionality outside of the Windows and Office environments.

In short, Narrator is an excellent tool for short-term use or as a supplement (such as using it to install a third-party screen reader or resolve issues with one in a pinch). It may one day evolve to a point where it gives other screen reading software some competition but as of now, it should be used in conjunction with or as a backup for other software.

Getting Started

Narrator can be launched in a few different ways

Start Narrator with a Key Command

The user can turn Narrator on and off by using the shortcut key Control + Windows + Enter. Narrator will begin speaking and you may be presented with a dialogue informing you that Narrator has been activated. The dialogue may also give you information on how to proceed to get help using Narrator. To continue running Narrator, press Enter, Escape, or click OK with your mouse.

Screenshot of Narrator Dialogue

Once you have exited the dialogue in whatever manner you wish, Narrator Home will open. This is a screen in Narrator with buttons to open a Quick Start Guide, open the Narrator Guide (which is a longer user manual), learn what’s new with Narrator, and provide feedback about Narrator to Microsoft.

Screenshot of Narrator Home

As with most dialogue boxes, you can navigate to each button by pressing Tab, activate the desired button by pressing Enter or Space.

If you do not wish to see the dialogue next time Narrator starts, you can use Tab to navigate to the checkbox that says “show Narrator Home when Narrator starts” and press Space to uncheck that box.

To remove focus from Narrator Home, use Alt + Tab to open another window or you may use the Tab Key to navigate to the “Minimize” button and press Enter.

Start Narrator from the Windows Start Menu

Another easy way to start Narrator, especially if you cannot remember the correct keyboard shortcut, is to type the word “Narrator” in the text field of the Start Menu.

To do this, simply press the Windows Key and type “Narrator”, then press Enter. Narrator will start in exactly the same way described above.

Start Narrator from the Settings Center

Another method of starting Narrator is by opening the Narrator area of the Settings Center. You can do this by pressing Control + Windows + N and using your mouse to select the switch labeled “Turn on Narrator”

Screenshot of Narrator Settings

Narrator is located in the Ease of Access area of the Settings App, so if necessary, you can open Settings ® Ease of Access ® Narrator (located in the left sidebar area).

Obviously, using this method will require the user to be able to see the screen or use of another screen reading product.

I’ve Started Narrator, Now What?

Just like with any other tool, Narrator requires some time investment to learn to use it. There are some tools that can help you get started in the Resources section of this guide.

Basic Narrator Commands

Below are included some basic commands for using Narrator, some of which already introduced above. They should help beginners get the basic gist of the program so he/she can access the resources located both in this document and as part of the Narrator Home screen.

  • Turn Narrator On or Off – Control + Windows + Enter

  • Open Narrator Settings – Control + Windows + N

    • These settings control how Narrator reads and behaves. You can access the Narrator Guide from this screen as well as Narrator Home

  • Lock/Unlock Narrator Key – Narrator + Z

    • When Narrator Key is locked, commands can be entered without pressing the Narrator Key. For example, to increase the volume, instead of “Narrator + Control + Plus” you would press “Control + Plus”.

  • Show Commands List – Narrator + F1

    • Shows all the possible commands that can be used in the current window, app, or program.

  • Begin Reading from Cursor Location – Narrator + R

  • Begin Reading from Top of Document or Page – Narrator + C

  • Speak Faster – Narrator + Plus

  • Speak Slower – Narrator + Minus

  • Speech – Control

  • Increase Narrator Volume – Narrator + Control + Plus

  • Decrease Narrator Volume – Narrator + Control + Minus

  • Navigate to Next Item – Narrator + Right Arrow

  • Navigate to Previous Item – Narrator + Left Arrow

Key Takeaways

  • Narrator should not, at this time, be used to replace a third party screen reader.

  • Narrator is under constant development as Windows updates are applied. The user should check the “What’s New” section in Narrator Home each time a major update is applied to Windows.

  • Narrator works best in Microsoft applications such as Word, Outlook, Edge, etc

  • Narrator can be turned on or off using the command Control + Windows + Enter