Navigating a Bloomberg terminal is somewhat different than navigating a "normal" computer program. The primary reason for this is the special Bloomberg keyboard that the system uses. While the keyboard is similar in many respects to a normal keyboard, in addition to the keys that would be found on a standard keyboard, a Bloomberg keyboard has additional keys. These keys are found near the top of the keyboard, where the F1, F2, F3 etc. keys would usually be found.
These special function keys allow the user to navigate the terminal by asset class. For instance, if a user is interested in examining a stock, they will generally access it through the <EQUITY> key. If they want to look at trading the US$ versus the Euro, most functions would be accessed with the <CURRENCY> key. There are also special keys for government, corporate, municipal and mortgage-backed bonds, as well as commodities, preferred stocks and funds. The Bloomberg keyboard also has a special <MESSAGE> key for communicating with other users via email or instant message as well as a <HELP> key that can be used when you require assistance (see the sections below for more details on messaging and help functions.) (For related reading, see The Risks Of Mortgage-Backed Securities.)
Bloomberg uses abbreviations and tickers for most of its functions. For example, someone looking for a quote on Microsoft stock would type in the symbol for Microsoft (MSFT) followed by the <EQUITY> key and then hit enter. This would bring up a menu of options relating to Microsoft stock. Since very few users know more than a small fraction of the almost limitless number of available Bloomberg options, these menus present an excellent way to see what sort of analytics are available for a given security or market.
Once you are familiar with Bloomberg, you might begin to memorize some of the shortcuts, thereby saving a step for familiar functions (as opposed to going through the menu.) For instance, if you want to see the basic description page for Microsoft's stock, instead of accessing it through the menu, you could instead type <MSFT> <EQUITY> <DES> and then hit enter. The "des" is the abbreviation for description pages on Bloomberg, and this common function will provide a good general overview of most securities.
Note: Because there are an almost unlimited number of functions in Bloomberg, the best way to begin navigating the system is probably to use menus and then select your favorite functions from there. Over time, you can begin to memorize the shortcuts for your most commonly used functions, while continuing to use the menus for less frequent choices. (For more, see Guide to Stock-Picking Strategies.)
You will notice that there is a green <HELP> key on the Bloomberg keyboard. This key can be your best friend, especially when you are new to the system. By hitting the help key once, you can get information about the screen that you are currently viewing. Hitting help twice - <HELP> <HELP> - will send an instant message to the Bloomberg help desk. You can then ask your question via live chat with a Bloomberg specialist who can guide you on using the terminal as well as on whatever particular function you are trying to access.
One of the nice features of Bloomberg is that it has a fairly robust messaging system. This system allows users to stay in contact with other users and is one of the reasons that Bloomberg is so ubiquitous in the financial industry. You can look up other users of the system in order to send them a message, and if you contact someone regularly, you can set them up on speed-dial as well. When messaging, you have two choices. The first is to send a traditional message, which is basically like an email. The second is to open up an instant message window with the other user, which, as the name implies, is similar to traditional instant messaging. Both methods work great, so which one you chose is largely a matter of personal preference.
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