What is a Keyboard Shortcut?


Updated: 04/01/2018 by Computer Hope

A keyboard shortcut is one or more keys used to perform a menu function or other common functions in an application.

Keyboard shortcuts usually are not as intuitive as point-and-click mouse actions; however, they can be utilized by the novice users in frequently used programs to get to locations much faster than using the mouse.

Note: A keyboard shortcut may also be referred to as an accelerator key, access key, hot key, shortcut, or shortcut key.

How to use a keyboard shortcut

A keyboard shortcut is activated with a key combination — pressing two, or more, keys at once on the keyboard. These keys include at least one modifier key in combination with one or more other keys.

Like most other computer documentation Computer Hope lists keyboard shortcuts with a plus symbol between them indicating that both keys need to be pressed at the same time. For example, the keyboard shortcut to select all text is Ctrl+A, which means press and hold down the Ctrl key and press the “A” key at the same time and then let go of both keys.

Note: In Windows operating systems, keyboard shortcuts are not case sensitive. So, although the Ctrl+A shortcut is written with a capital “A,” a lowercase “a” will also trigger the shortcut.

Tip: Keyboard shortcuts are not universal. A keyboard shortcut that works in Microsoft Windows will not always work on the Apple macOS, and software keyboard shortcut that works in Microsoft Word may not work in OpenOffice.

Note: Although we follow the above method of showing a keyboard shortcut some documentation may list a shortcut key as ^A instead of Ctrl+A. The caret (^) in front of a letter, number or series of letters and numbers also indicates the Ctrl key.

Function key keyboard shortcuts

Although most keyboard shortcuts are two or more keys the function keys at the top of your keyboard can also be used by themselves as a shortcut key. For example, the F7 key in Microsoft Word and other Microsoft programs is the shortcut key for the Spell Checker. The function keys can also be used with other modifier keys to perform additional functions. For example, Shift+F7 (pressing and holding the Shift key while pressing the F7 key) opens a Thesaurus in Microsoft Word.

How to identify and learn keyboard shortcuts

For most programs with a file menu a keyboard shortcut and be learned by examining what letters are underlined, which is a mnemonic or reminder of what the shortcut key is used to access that function of the file menu. Some programs may also show the shortcut key to the right of all file menu drop-down options.

File menu with underlined shortcut lettersFor example, the image to the right has an underline on the “F” in File, which means you can press the Alt key and then the “F” key to access the File menu.

Tip: All of the main file menu options (e.g., File, Edit, View, etc.) are accessed with the Alt key and the underlined letter.

Note: If your program has a file menu, but none of the letters are underlined it may not show underlined characters until you press and hold the Alt key. If your program does not have a file menu, the keyboard shortcuts cannot be learned using this method and would need to be learned from product documentation or through our shortcut listing.

In the same image above, you can see that some of the common features, such as Open (Ctrl+O) and Save (Ctrl+S), have shortcut keys assigned to them. As you begin to memorize shortcut keys, you’ll notice that many applications share the same shortcut keys.

How to enable a programs keyboard shortcut underline

With new versions of Windows, most programs no longer show the keyboard shortcut underline until you press and hold the Alt key. To re-enable this feature follow the instructions below.

  1. Open the Control Panel
  2. In the Control Panel click Ease of Access
  3. In Ease of Access, click Change how your keyboard works
  4. Finally, check the Underline keyboard shortcuts and access keys and then click Ok.

Keyboard terms, Macro, Mnemonic, Modifier key, Programmable function key, Shortcut, StickyKeys, Special key

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