What Is a Keyboard Shortcut?

G. Wiesen

A keyboard shortcut is a type of user interface (UI) command that allows a single keyboard entry to be made that sends a command to a computer program or application. This is usually done for commands that may be used frequently and can vary among programs, though certain shortcuts are often considered standard in similar programs. Shortcuts can also be customizable within a program, allowing the user of that program to set his or her own shortcuts for commands he or she frequently uses. A keyboard shortcut is usually fairly simple and can require only a single key to execute, though two or three keys may need to be pressed in some situations.

MacBook keyboards have many built-in gesture and quick-key shortcuts.
MacBook keyboards have many built-in gesture and quick-key shortcuts.

Essentially, a keyboard shortcut is any command executed with the press of a keyboard key, rather than through another user interaction such as a mouse. A keyboard shortcut can be quite simple, and involve the press of a single button to enter a command beyond creating a letter or number. Some commands, however, are achieved through the use of keyboard shortcuts that require two or more buttons to be pressed at once.

Keyboard shortcuts typically involve the use of the 'Ctrl' or 'Fn' key.
Keyboard shortcuts typically involve the use of the 'Ctrl' or 'Fn' key.

In most word processing programs, for example, a user can interact with the UI to save the file he or she is currently using. This is often done by using the pointer and selecting “Save” either through a direct button or through a menu. A keyboard shortcut can also typically be used in such a program to more quickly and easily save the file, without using the mouse. In most programs, this is done by pressing the control key and the “S” key at the same time, and this keyboard shortcut is usually described as “Ctrl+S.”

Due to the popularity of this keyboard shortcut, numerous programs include this same shortcut for saving a file or document; such common shortcuts are often referred to as “sacred shortcuts.” Many computer games, on the other hand, utilize those keys for other purposes and the save command is frequently bound to the F12 key or a similar key. Some complex shortcuts may require multiple buttons to be pressed simultaneously, such as the keyboard shortcut for the task manager in the Windows® operating systems, which typically requires simultaneous pressing of the control, alt, and delete keys or “Ctrl+Alt+Del.”

Many specialized programs, such as computer games and illustration software, allow users to create their own keyboard shortcuts. This is typically done through a menu within the program, though a text file can sometimes be edited to create new shortcuts as well. Such customization allows players or users to more quickly access commands and features they frequently use.

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Discussion Comments


@Logicfest -- the problem with that is sophisticated programs have a heck of a lot of shortcuts. Memorizing them all can be chore. It's a good idea, then, to learn the ones you use most and rely on the good old mouse for everything else.


If there is a program that you use often, learning keyboard shortcuts can save you a heck of a lot of time. Graphic designers and other professionals thrive on those things as they can get to the tools they need quicker than they can by using a mouse to click through windows.

Plus, there's another benefit. Let's say you are chained to a computer for eight hours a day. Gripping a mouse for that long can increase your chances of getting a nasty, painful case of carpal tunnel syndrome. Using keyboard shortcuts can reduce the probability of picking up that painful condition.

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