Using the Tell Me Box in Office Applications


I don’t know about you all, but sometimes I forget where things are in the Word or Outlook ribbons and menus. With so many other things to remember these days, I sometimes wonder how I remember the recipe for boiling water. Smile.

When in any Microsoft Application (Word, Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, etc) you can press Alt + Q to navigate to the “Tell Me” box. This feature has a lot of uses, but we’re going to focus on one particular use and that is that you can ask Microsoft to help you perform a particular action. It saves a lot of searching the menus and ribbons.

Using the Tell Me Box in Word

When in Word if I press Alt + Q and type “Font” in the Tell Me Box, I get several options including whether I want to choose a theme font, increase font size, change color, or other options. If I am focused on the words “Font Size” and press Enter, the menu will automatically expand, allowing me to select a font size using the Up and Down Arrows.

In some cases, I have a choice. I can press Enter to activate the option or I can press Right Arrow to expand the menu. One example of this is pressing Alt + Q and typing Number in the Tell Me Box. If I press Enter, Word will start an automatic numbered list (or if a numbered list exists, it will remove the numbering). However, I can also press Right Arrow to expand that menu and choose what type of Numbered List I want in my document.

There are a LOT of different terms you can type into the Tell Me Box including:

  • Bold (pressing Enter turns Bold on or off)

  • Bullet (pressing Enter will start a bulleted list but pressing Right Arrow will allow you to select what type of bullet to use in your list)

  • Font Settings (opens the Font Settings dialogue)

Using the Tell Me Box in Outlook

For those who have Outlook installed on their machines (all screen reader users, all students, and some additional staff) the Tell Me Box can be even more useful.

When not in a message, I can use the Tell Me Box to adjust settings or activate/deactivate features. I often use it to set my out of office replies (because I always forget where to find them in the menus).

If I am NOT in an open message, I can type Alt + Q and enter “out of office”. When I press Down Arrow, the Automatic Replies option appears and I can press Enter. Now I can navigate that box using Tab and set auto replies both within and outside of my organization.

The results you generate from the Tell Me Box will depend on what is in focus or what is “highlighted”. For example, results will be slightly different if you are composing a message than if you are focused in your Inbox. If a message is highlighted, you will also get different results. So if you are not getting the results you want, it may be because you have something highlighted or in focus. If that’s the case, it often helps to move focus to your inbox by pressing Control + Shift + I.

As with Word, there are a LOT of different terms you can type into the Tell Me Box including:

  • Address Book (pressing Enter will open the address book)

  • New Item (pressing Right Arrow will give you options of new items such as new message, new contact, new task, etc)

  • BCC (pressing Enter will add a BCC field if you are composing a message)

As with any new skill or feature, practice makes progress. You may not get exactly what you want the first or second or even third time. The important thing to do is just experiment. Remember, if I haven’t broken it yet, you probably won’t either!


Do Things Quickly with Tell Me – Microsoft Support

Tell Me: Getting Help in Office YouTube

Using Tell Me with JAWS Perkins Paths to Technology