How to Use Keyboard Shortcuts

There's more than one way to do things within programs. Find out about keyboard shortcuts.
Published: Apr 20, 2006
Author: Dan Veaner
Related OS: Windows

This question submitted by Alan Watson, Beth Holloway, Russell Buck, Wanda Alexander, Ben Wilson, Ron Jones, Linda Robb and numerous others

As I watch other people use Windows programs I can't help but notice that they do it differently from me. A lot of people click on the File menu, then click through the choices. For example, to open a new file you would click File, then Open, then scroll through the choices until you find the file you want before clicking the "Open" button to load the file.

"What's wrong with that?" you may ask. Nothing, really. It works. But here's what I do: I press the Ctrl key and the O (the letter, not the zero) key at the same time, then type the beginning of the file name. Windows presents me with a list of files that begin with what I typed. I choose the right one and press Enter. Is my way better? Not especially, but it is a lot faster.

One of the great things about modern computing is that you are presented with different ways to accomplish many common tasks. Scrolling through the menus is a bit like slogging through an automated phone system, where using shortcuts and hot keys is more like getting a real human being on the phone right away. You want to slog through the phone menu the first time or two, but then you learn to press Zero to get a human and you'll never press 1 again.

Computing is the same way. That "Ctrl + O" saves two steps using the menu method. If you compute a lot it can make a difference. And there is a third way to do it in many programs: see if there is a button with an open folder icon on it. That usually means click here for the "Open a file" dialog box.

If you don't know the shortcuts, how on earth do you learn them? Well, take a look at the File menu in your web browser or word processor. Next to the word "Open" you will likely see the keyboard shortcut "Ctrl + O." You'll also notice "Ctrl + N" is used to begin a new file, "Ctrl + S" saves the current file, and "Ctrl + P" prints.

Now look in the Edit menu. "Ctrl + X" will cut text you have highlighted, or "Ctrl + C" will copy it. Those make sense in a way. But why does "Ctrl + V" paste? Well, for two reasons: 1) "Ctrl + P" is already taken for printing and 2) the V key is right next to the C key.

Here's another one: "Ctrl + A" will select all text in a document, everything. And not just in documents -- if you want to select every file in a folder, try it. It will select all the files. "Ctrl + Z" is the undo/redo combination. It will only undo one level of activity, but pressing it again will redo what you undid in case you really didn't want to undo it.

There are quite a few hot key combinations. Windows itself has many that aren't documented in a place that is easy to find.

For example, you don't need a mouse to use the menu. Press the Alt key and at the same time press the highlighted letter in a menu entry. For example, "Alt + F" will open the File menu. Now press the N key and press Enter. A new document is started.

Then there are the F keys. F1 is almost always used to get help. And F3 is the "Find" key. Once you have set up what to find it becomes the "Find Next" key. Want a quick way to open the Start menu? Press "Ctrl + Esc." Or easier yet, press the Windows button, the one next to the Ctrl key that has the Windows logo on it. Use "Alt + Tab" to switch between open programs. And use "Alt + F4" to close an open program or window.

I'd like to thank Alan Watson, Beth Holloway, Russell Buck, Wanda Alexander, Ben Wilson, Ron Jones, Linda Robb and numerous others for asking this question.

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About Dan Veaner

Dan Veaner has been a developer and online publisher since 1989. He wrote award winning consumer and developer software, has developed several Web sites including humor sites http://mysockdrawer.com and http://Vvids.com, and worked for America Online. Currently he is working on online publishing projects and is on the board of directors of the Shareware Industry Awards Foundation.

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